Cataloguing your collection

From Our Toolkit

Creating a catalogue for your collection is a very different task from creating an inventory or quick box list. Creating an inventory or a quick box list is a finite task. In contrast creating a catalogue record is an open ended task where further information can be recorded throughout the time that a particular item is in your care.

Museum approach

Collections Trust describe the process of cataloguing as,

Managing the information that gives your collections meaning, not as an end in itself but to record and retrieve what is known about your objects.

It is best practice to create a catalogue record for each item, or group of items in your collection. It is important to include any cross references to other items in your collections, correspondence, books or other sources of information.

Sporting Heritage have created a simple Excel spreadsheet for creating individual catalogue records which includes the fields for the following information:

  • Object identification
  • Object description
  • Object production
  • Object association
  • Object acquisition
  • Location information
  • Object reproduction
  • Object conservation

The process for managing cataloguing is outlined in the Spectrum guidelines.

Archive approach

It is important to remember that in archival cataloguing the original structure and order of the records must be preserved.

Being able to provide a catalogue of material to any potential researchers will enable them to check what you do and don’t hold before they request to see the collection in person.

Archives are catalogued hierarchically. For most archives four levels are sufficient to capture the information. These levels are:

  • Collection (also known as Fonds)
  • Group (also known as Series)
  • Sub-group
  • Item

The National Archives’ Access to Archives – Guidelines for New and Revised Cataloguing provides further information on hierarchical cataloguing structures including what information to record at each level.

The National Archives also provides useful case studies of how other organisations have approached cataloguing in their Cataloguing archive collections resource.

Simple cataloguing structure 

The National Archives’ Archive Principles and Practice: an introduction to archives for non-archivists resource provides information on a simple cataloguing structure. (Section 3.3 – page 15)

Archive catalogue structure worked example

You can create your own catalogue records using the template below:

Cataloguing at item level

The Community Archives and Heritage Group’s Cataloguing guidelines for community archives provide clear and easy to understand information for more detailed cataloguing activity.

For advice on using a software package or content management system to hold your catalogue records see the Collection specific software topic in this toolkit.

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