Are You a Curator or a Packrat?


At first glance, the contrast between these two handles couldn’t be sharper.

A curator is a specialist who oversees a cultural institution’s collections. (S)he makes decisions about what objects to collect, oversees their care, and conducts research to share with the public through exhibitions and publications.

Conversely, a packrat is a disparaging term for an undisciplined hoarder. (S)he’s named after a bushy-tailed rodent that uses its well-developed cheek pouches to store food and miscellaneous objects.

Seemingly disparate terms, yet in the unwieldy world of digital content, there’s a fine line separating the two.

Most of us, of course, would much prefer to don a curator’s hat. We aspire to be that cultured – somewhat snooty – expert who has a skill for selecting and sharing content that’s ideally suited to whatever audience we seek to reach.

But who or what determines what’s OK to share? How much is too much? Is there a specific formula or general rule of thumb?

The frustrating truth is: it depends. One person’s trusted curator is another person’s annoying packrat.

Each morning, as I scour news sites and blogs for content that I think may be of interest to my Twitter community, I wonder which moniker I most embody.

Some mornings, it’s slim pickings. Others, it’s a bountiful harvest and I find myself fighting trigger-finger tendencies.

Regardless, it’s really hard to gauge whether I’m viewed as more of a curator or a packrat. I suspect the answer depends on whom you ask.

In many ways, trying to organize and serve up digital content is much more challenging and murky than it is for any cultural institution. Holdings don’t fit nicely within a discrete, climate-controlled environment. They never will. 

Instead, the goal is to cast a focused net within the seemingly endless ocean of internet content (estimated to reach 20 billion items by 2020).

The role of digital curator is in its infancy. It’s messy. Imprecise. And often like chasing the wind. 

But it’s an increasingly valuable — and valued — function.

So if you’re wondering whether you’re more of a curator or a packrat, you’re probably a bit of both. 

Welcome to the family.