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I Remember When – Part 7

by Ron Kley, Museum Research Associates on

Production Line Cataloging

I recall the experience of working with the volunteer staff of a shire (county) museum in Western Australia back around 1990, and training them to use a newly-installed collection management software system. The ladies had worked diligently and meticulously to tackle a large backlog of previously uncataloged collection items, and I congratulated them on their thoroughness. But I then pointed out that they had spent an entire afternoon to generate just four catalog records.

At that rate, and even if they were to work all day, every day, it would be many years before the backlog could be eliminated. In the meantime, their computer would “know,” and be able to search for and find, only the small proportion of the entire collection for which data had been entered.

I suggested an alternate strategy, one that I’ve advocated and used in a great many similar situations. Enter only very skeletal records, just very basic identification, more like “what is it / where is it” inventory data, until a first pass has been completed and there is at least a basic record in the computer for every object in the museum’s collection.

Ideally, it’s to be hoped that once that initial task is completed there will be enough staff energy and institutional priority remaining to undertake a more detailed in-depth expansion of the basic data originally entered. Cataloging, after all, is always a work in progress, with data being added or modified as new information comes to light.

I haven’t been privileged to revisit that shire museum since that training day decades ago, but I’ve offered the same advice to many other organizations, and have followed it myself in approaching major cataloging projects. It works. I’ve even put together some guidelines that I’ll be happy to share regarding what I’ve referred to as “Production Line Cataloging” and will send a copy as an e-mail attachment if you’ll contact me via the Nomenclature Community at nomenclature@aaslh.org.

Image courtesy of the Computer History Museum

Image courtesy of the Computer History Museum

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