The ideanary is an exercise in recontextualising the collection of the Museum of Engineering and Technology (MIT) in Kraków. The objective of the ideanary is to activate the work-related stories rooted in physical objects.

Objects registration and management methods in technology and industry museums are usually based on information relating to the technical features of physical objects, such as their function, parameters, the rules of their operation or the manufacturing process behind their creation. This is because such museums usually focus on the history of engineering, be this on the creation of new technologies or the innovation of existing technologies. The approach of these museums marginalises issues around the work undertaken to use such objects and the experiences of those who historically manufactured, operated, and used them.

Work is very much present within physical objects. Beholding an electric coffee maker, for example, one might consider the history of the right to work breaks and profession-related forms of rest. A CCTV camera might prompt thought about worker monitoring, a photocopier about the automation of work, and electro-insulating rubber boots about the issue of work hazards and accidents.

Our goal was to create a glossary of terms related to work, which would have practical application for the development of museum collections. Together with employees from the MIT, we selected ten objects from the MIT collection to inform the initial development of the glossary. We did not look for links between objects but were driven rather by a commitment to present the diversity of the collection. We utilised several sources to investigate the history behind the objects: memoirs on work, photographic representations, historical and anthropological studies, textbooks used at vocational schools, operational health and safety materials, legal texts, and press statements. These sources were selected to provide information on how work has historically been experienced, described, and regulated. The absence of extensive information on some objects prompted us to group these objects together: the National typewriter and adding machine were each described as office work tools. We then developed the potential biographies, histories, and application contexts of the objects and devised keywords accordingly.

The summary includes a set of keywords rooted in the selected objects, informed by their histories, contexts, and the associations they invoke. We decided not to order keywords according to any hierarchy. Instead, we decided to devise “wandering” keywords, whose definition applies in varying degrees to various phenomena. The set of keywords does not cover all phenomena associated with human work but constitutes the basis for a glossary which can be broadened to describe museum collections in a way which reveals otherwise omitted contexts.