Loans registrar

 12 March 2013

Loans registrars set conditions for the loan of historic items and art pieces. These may be a collections’ general conditions or special conditions for particular items.

The loaning of precious artwork encourages wider study and visitor engagement. Image: Birmingham Museums and Trust.
The loaning of precious artwork encourages wider study and visitor engagement. Image: Birmingham Museums and Trust.

What does a loans registrar do?

Collections of historical items and pieces of art are held at many heritage sites, such as museums, archives, galleries and historic buildings. Most heritage venues want to make their collections available to be seen and studied by as many people as possible. One way they do this is to loan items to other collections and sites.

Requests for loans

Collections receive requests for loans. Most requests are from other museums and collections. Requests may also come from, for example:

  • educational institutions
  • public bodies
  • charities or community organisations.

Usually, items are loaned to go on display. Some items, however, my be loaned for research.

Loans registrars receive requests for loan items. Each collection sets its own criteria for loans. When registrars receive request for loans they consider each request based on the criteria, which may include, for example:

  • where the item(s) will be displayed
  • who is the target audience
  • whether the display will enable the items to be understood in a different context
  • whether the item has been loaned before
  • whether the item is needed for an exhibition by the ‘home’ collection.

A request may be for one item or for several, perhaps to form part of an exhibition or to link in with a special project.

Setting conditions for loans

Loans registrars set conditions for the loan. These may be collections’ general conditions or may be special conditions for particular items. Conditions could include, for example:

  • insurance
  • how the item is cared for and displayed
  • packing and transport, including escorting or couriering the item, where necessary
  • security, during transit and when the item is displayed
  • imaging and publication rights
  • costs.

Loans policy

Most collections have a policy of supporting loans to other collections. Loans increase public access to historical items and art works, by allowing a different group of people to see them (in another area or even in another country). Loans also raise the profile of the collection loaning the item. However, these benefits have to be balanced with preservation issues.

Increasingly, collections have corporate loan schemes. Companies pay to borrow works of art to display in their buildings.

Registrars keep careful records, so organisation skills are essential.

Large collections may have many items on loan at once. Registrars keep careful records. Although the loans registrar has overall responsibility, there may be other staff maintaining the records.

The work may be combined with, or overlap with, the duties of a collections manager or documentation staff.

How do I become a loans registrar?

You need to be interested in heritage and in historical items and/or works of art. Employers will look for good organisation and communication skills as well as attention to detail.

You need to be able to work under pressure and to tight deadlines. IT skills are essential.

What qualifications and training do I need?


Most loans registrars and assistant registrars, have a relevant degree.

This could be in a range of subjects including:

  • art history
  • history
  • conservation
  • museum studies
  • information management.

Other subjects may be relevant for work in particular areas, such as medical or science degrees to work with scientific collections.

In addition, many loans registration staff also have a postgraduate qualification in, for example, museum studies, information and library management or archives and record management. This could be a postgraduate Diploma or a Masters.

Degree and postgraduate courses are available at several universities across the UK. Details are available on the UCAS and UKPASS websites.

Cultural and heritage apprenticeships may offer a way into heritage work. You would still need to gain qualifications at degree level.

Some registration staff are qualified as librarians or archivists which involves taking qualifications accredited by the appropriate professional body:


Like most work in heritage, this is a competitive field to enter. As well as the relevant qualifications, you will need experience. This can be paid or voluntary. Many heritage organisations and venues welcome volunteers. 

The Archives and Records Association has a list of voluntary opportunities as well as paid traineeships.

The UK Registrars Group (UKRG) offers training events, a newsletter and social events where you can meet other registration professionals.

What will I earn?

An assistant collections registrar may earn between £21,000 and £26,000. With experience, this could rise to £28,000. The registrar of a large national collection could earn up to £40,000.

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