Museum Job Spotlight: Anne Collier
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The name of my museum is… Cultural and Natural History Collections at the University of La Verne
My name is… Anne Collier
My job title is… Curator
This job title means that I mainly work on… Everything!
Give us a quick overview of your department/museum.
We are a Collection of materials, objects, artifacts and items collected by former students, Brethren missionaries, and others over the past 125 years of our existence. We are the only remaining tie to the original founding of the University of La Verne, which started as Lordsburg College in 1891. Our collection ranges from a fully articulated saber-tooth cat, one of the first ever to be removed from the Tar Pits in Los Angeles, to hundreds of Native American baskets and pottery. We have pre-WWII materials from Africa, South Central America, and other countries that were brought back by Brethren missionaries. A former medical sciences learning institution, we have spirit specimens, stuffed specimens, and study specimens. We have hundreds of materials in entomology, zoology and are rumored to have the largest Pleistocene bone collection outside of the NHMLA. With our eclectic catalogue, my boss likens us to a mini “Wellcome Collection.” Yet, we are a hidden gem. We have no public presence, no budget, and very little exhibition space. As a curator, I see the potential for researchers, authors, artists in this Collection. But without a budget, how do I get our presence known?
What inspires you about your museum’s mission?
Our mission is to “Inspire, motivate, and further educate our community of students and neighbors through our cultural and natural history collections.” During my off hours I work as a researcher. I know how important it is to find that one thing no one before has uncovered. Every time I walk into this building, I see thousands of that “one thing” that no one has seen. I want to, quite literally, “inspire” and “motivate” other researchers in their work by giving them access to all of that “one thing” that will make a difference to their work. I also want to engage the community in their history by instilling a passion for culture and history, natural or public, by sharing all that we have amassed from people just like them.
What advice would you give to the aspiring museum professional?
If you want in this profession, know it from the outside before you join the inside. Join every museum and/or library association for the newsletters and their social media posts. Join the local historical societies. The people who care about local history will be your biggest allies. Follow anthropology and history-related groups on FB. “Like” all of the Smithsonian museums. National museums, as well as local, are a wealth of information, particularly in online marketing. Go to museums large and small, even those that do not have the same focus or emphasis. Most of all do research. Get into the archives. Look at how various museums, libraries and even historical societies store and catalog their materials. Ask the archivist or curator what degrees they have. Narrow down which one is best “bang for the buck.”
How did you find your way into the museum industry?
All of the above? I was previously in sales management in the IT field. I have always liked history and museums, so I would visit one whenever I had the chance. Then I started doing historical research on the side and realized I really liked how it felt being inside a learning institution. I asked questions. I made friends. I went back to school and received a degree in history and anthropology. I networked, mainly because I really like the subject matter, and I applied myself to any work asked of me. One of my professors, then the interim Dean, contacted me a couple years after graduation asking if I would inventory a previously uncatalogued collection. Little did she, nor the University, have any clue that the collection would contain over 50,000 items and is still growing. I owe this job to her and I owe it to the public to let them know what we have in our Collection.
Best advice you ever received from a museum professional:
Don’t get a degree in Museum Studies because then you can only work in Museum Administration. Go for history, public history, art history, anything that can be versatile and applied toward numerous positions inside a museum. Also, volunteer. It is a great way to learn while creating a presence.
What specific skills enable you to succeed in your job?
Having previously been in both sales and in management, my sales skills help me with networking or marketing ideas and my management skills gives me the ability to assess a job and determine what needs to be done and in what order.
What’s your favorite object or piece of art in your museum and why?
Seriously, just one? Not possible. Sure, the saber-tooth cat c 1915 is awesome. Why? Because it being one of first to be articulated, it has a Dire Wolf tail. This is because the species was unknown at the time it was being studied and since domestic cats have long tails, it was assumed that a saber-tooth would too. I love that error. It shows how people learn from their mistakes. But my favorite? Oddly, I love the hand-chiseled cornerstone from the original Lordsburg College. It was chiseled before machinery and after the building was erected, so it was made with a purpose. After that building was demolished it was saved and stored for a reason. The students, professors, and community take pride in our origins, so for me, that rock connects the past to the present.
What is your earliest memory of being in a museum?
I grew up in California. In 4th grade we are exposed to local and state history. We visited Olvera Street and we were taken down into the catacombs under the Los Angeles streets. Was that a museum? No. But do I pretty much remember every single word that our docent said? Yes. From that moment on, I was hooked.