It might still conjure up an image of a spectacled, tweed-clad type rummaging through a dusty museum archive.
But in this age of digital saturation, the role of the humble curator is being reinvented.
With a multitude of literary offerings now appearing online every second, the need to separate the wheat from the chaff has become greater than ever.
In many ways, a curator’s work resembles that of a journalist: selecting what is important or remarkable out of an amorphous mass.
Many curators on the Internet labour out of love. In this way, they present an antidote to the journalist’s tendency to simply reinforce the consensus, by writing about subjects proven to generate clicks or the ideas closest to their editors’ hearts.
Curators can afford to be choosy about the work they promote; their selections don’t necessarily have to appeal to the masses.
One of my favourite curators of that kind is Ana Kinsella. She’s an Irish fashion journalist based in London who runs a Tumblr account called A Week’s Clicks. It features a wonderful selection of links to writing she’s enjoyed that week. Sometimes she teases readers with an arresting quote; other times she posts a short summary of what a piece is about. I always end up reading and enjoying writing I wouldn’t otherwise have stumbled upon.
Maria Popova of BrainPickings is a curator of a different kind. Some of you might remember she previously featured in my list of favourite female bloggers. She curates centuries of ideas within literature, science and philosophy in exquisitely written posts. Her curation is unique in linking the thoughts of people separated by time, geography and discipline. In her case in particular, curation is very much an act of creation.
Curation can serve a highly practical purpose too. Posts like this one, which lists the best Websites for getting a free education can save you hours of Googling.
Like all Internet crazes, curation has of course turned commercial too. And no site has better exploited the need to restore online order than BuzzFeed.
While its profit-driven curation is less noble than that of the beaver-like individuals who undertake -simply for the love of it – the sifting so others don’t have to, the site’s enormous success reflects the huge demand for curation in the digital age.
Admittedly, our need for someone to summarise the Internet has taken on absurd dimensions too.
At time of writing, BuzzFeed’s homepage features the following articles: 19 pictures that will change your mind about frizzy hair, 19 dogs that are prettier than the views they’re looking at and my personal favourite: 15 hilarious tweets that accurately sum up working at a call Center.
Have you got any favorite curators? Let me know in the comments!