This guide describes the importance of the cataloguing process as a vital step in our Digitisation project which aims to make as much archive material accessible online as possible. Below is detailed guidance on how best to fill in the Item Catalogue form including tips on making sure we record all the information we need and conventions for standardising the way we communicate that information. This all goes towards making our online catalogue search tool as user-friendly as possible!
If you want to know more about our Digitisation project or the ODIN Database project, have a look at the Current and Planned Research Projects page.
This guide also provides some introductory guidance for the physical storage of archive material as part of cataloguing. This guide does not cover any other aspect of collections management, digitisation or website content management.
What is the Item Catalogue?
The Item Catalogue is where we store all the information that describes our collections. Archives, libraries, museums and other heritage organisations use catalogues to record as much information about their collections as is necessary for sustaining preservation, collections access, and for the operation of their organisation.
Our catalogue allows us to locate our physical items in storage in the Hub, it allows us to make digital versions of our collections accessible online and even records information about items in other people’s care! The structure and design of the BH Item Catalogue has been guided by national and international professional standards for the creation of archival finding aids including the International Standard for Archival Description (General).
Cataloguing is the first vital step in the Digitisation process that ensures each and every item we digitise is also fully described and recorded. From a unique ID number to a full and detailed description, each field in the Item Catalogue form plays its part in making an item of archive material discoverable both online and in physical storage.
You can search the Bishopsteignton Heritage Catalogue using the Catalogue Editor.
Assigning an ID Number
Our ID number allocation system is project-based. When you start a research project with the aim of writing up an article for our website, you will need to have any relevant items catalogued and digitised for your use. When starting a new project that is clearly separate from any existing research, use the next available 1000-number range for your cataloguing. Here’s the list of ID number ranges including any boxes already filled and numbered:
The ranges are generous on purpose as this means that we can keep digitising archive material for years to come and newly acquired material can be added to existing articles. This way, our website is always growing while information is still neatly arranged and discoverable! The allocation of certain ranges has no significance in itself, it’s just a really helpful way of making sure every item in the collection – physical or digital – has a unique ID number to which we can attach all the important information we need to know about it at the same time as grouping related material together. It also allows us, where necessary, to respect the ‘original order’ of any single large accessions like, for example, the Coombe family collection. At the end of the day, the process of making collections available online means we can arrange collections however we like digitally, or even allow our website visitors and researchers to curate and arrange their own collections of items they are interested in.
Filling in the Catalogue Form
Here’s some tips and advice on how best to fill in the Item Catalogue form:
- Record here the Item’s allocated unique ID number. See previous section for available and already allocated ID number ranges. If you think an item you’re cataloguing might belong somewhere else, discuss the item with the Hub team and your fellow volunteers and cataloguers to help you make the best choice.
- Remember that you can’t use the same ID number twice but you can miss out numbers. Keep a browser tab or window open that you regularly refresh to show the work you’ve already done so you know what to do next.
- Begin with capital letter.
- This needs to introduce what the item is, in as few words as possible without repeating the format.
- If owned by Bishopsteignton Heritage, enter ‘BH’.
- If owned by an external party, record the full name of the individual or organisation.
- Must refer to an item ID that is already in the Item Catalogue.
- If you are cataloguing an item that is enclosed within another piece of archive material, record the item which encloses it here. For example, Envelope 3010 records the Suite Molly Coombe stayed in when on a cruise and encloses Invitation 3011 which records who Captained the Cruise Ship.
- If a document looks to be a mixture of Printed Material and Manuscript, assess which part of it makes it more valuable as a record and select that option from the list.
- Begin with capital letter.
- Transcriptions should be ‘in single inverted commas’ and adhere to guidance in the Transcription Guide.
Use where a ‘Title’ is not enough information. Use to transcribe any inscriptions on an item. Try not to duplicate too much information from ‘Title’.
- We are still developing the Accession Information facilities for our website and database. Leave this field empty unless you know the Item’s accession details.
- Use YYYY-MM-DD structure, e.g.: 2021-01-01
- If known, record the precise date of creation. For photographic prints, record the date on which the image was captured, as opposed to when the print was made.
Circa Created Year
- Use where an imprecise date is known or calculated for an item or a date is only partially legible, e.g. If a letter is dated ‘12 [month illegible] 2021’, enter 2021 in this field.
- If a precise date of creation is not yet known, estimate a year of creation. For example, if an item is likely to have been created during the mid 1950s, record Circa Created Year as ‘1955’. An item can provide lots of clues as to its year of creation. From past clothing fashions in a family photo to the physical position of a letter in a stack of papers, see what clues you can find to calculate an approximate date.
Item Created By
- Record here as much information as the item provides, supplemented by any other items related to the same creator. Provide a full name and a full address where possible.
- If known, record here the individual or organisation who created the item, for example the Studio that captured and printed a photograph.
- Must refer to an item ID that is already in the Item Catalogue.
- Record here if an item is an exact copy of another. This does not apply to photocopies or photographs of original archive material, nor does it apply if there is a duplicate item with an inscription/stamp/annotation or other addition.
- ‘Good’ means there is no foreseeable potential for decay or damage. ‘Fair’ means the item should be monitored. ‘Poor’ means that some action needs to be taken to stabilise or improve the item’s condition as soon as possible.
- Use for describing any damage or other condition information such as handling advice. Do not duplicate information from ‘Title’ or ‘Description’. Begin with capital letter.
- If an item is recorded in the Bishopsteignton Museum of Rural Life Acquisitions Register, record using this structure: BMRL Acquisitions Reg. No.: 1735
We want to make sure that the information in the catalogue is as enjoyable to access and use as possible. To that end, we try to make sure every entry in the Item Catalogue abides by the same rules and is guided by a universal standard of practice. It’s important to remember that if you are unsure about any aspect of Cataloguing, ask one of the Hub Team for help. Additionally, if you have any issues with the Item Catalogue form or suggestions for improving its user-friendliness, talk to one of the Hub Team as we welcome any opportunity to review and improve our tools and facilities.
Go to the Item Catalogue page to begin cataloguing.
Labelling & Storage
Now that you have fully catalogued and digitised your items of archive material, you can leave them in their permanent storage location. Here’s some instruction on how to label your catalogued items so they can be found in storage as well as some basic advice on how to store them in their box. More detailed instruction on packaging and storage can be found in the Preservation and Packaging Guide.
- When you have filled in the Item Catalogue input form and digitised the item, use a soft pencil to discretely mark the item with its unique Item ID. If you are cataloguing a 3D object or other archive material that cannot be marked with pencil, use a label attached with string and/or clearly label the items packaging.
- ID number labels should never cause any damage to an item and should never be permanent. Ink makes a permanent new mark and can cause irreparable damage to vulnerable archive material.
- Remember that an item’s label should be clearly definable as a new mark made by you as a cataloguer! A soft pencil is easy to rub off so an item can be returned to its original historic state, if necessary.
- It’s useful to use a pencil even when labelling outer packaging as it will not pose any danger to other items stored in close contact. If you need to label negatives, film or other photographic or special archive material, seek specialist advice from a member of the Hub team.
Here are some examples of good labelling that is both sympathetic to the item itself and useful for finding:
- As far as possible, store items in consecutive order of their ID numbers, flat and with heavier items at the bottom of the box. Store items in order of cataloguing with the higher number (the item catalogued more recently) on top.
- If you finish filling a box, it will need to be clearly labelled with the next available Box number. This makes finding physical items in the Hub must quicker and easier and also creates a physical record of the order in which items have been catalogued and stored.
If you are cataloguing a remote collection, not owned by BH, you can choose how you would like to store, label and identify your own items. Take a look at the At Home with Your Archive series for advice.