Object Cataloging Guidelines
As institutional record-keeping becomes more computer-driven, collections management practices are shifting. What changes have you noticed at your own institution? Is the craft of cataloging becoming obsolete? Does the brevity that database systems encourage deter the inclusion of potentially significant details about a piece? Does your institution still use hard-copy catalog worksheets and then enter data into a database?
The following cataloging guidelines are old-school, but they may still be effective prompts for data gathering.
I. Description (written)
A. Form: include type of object (i.e. chair, painting, vase) and shape
B. Materials & Techniques (i.e. block-printed cotton, cast iron)
C. Color, Texture, Style
D. Other Distinguishing Features (i.e. damage, repairs, original defects)
E. Measurements: clarify units of measurement and dimension type, provide height or length first, then width, then depth (ex.: H=4’3” x W=19” x D=12”). Diameter (dia.) can replace width and depth. Include weight if important for storage needs or identification.
II. Description (visual)
A. photograph—can be a copy or scan of a flat object
B. sketch: at times a photo may not be possible; also a sketch can emphasize and clarify certain details of the piece.
III. Provenance: estimated or specific date of manufacture, place of origin and/or use, maker, title (if titled work), history of ownership and/or use
IV. Documentation: include inscriptions and markings on the object itself and attachments relating to any research on the object itself, maker, or genre.
V. Value: include date and source of valuation
VI. Recording Information: include date of cataloging and name or initials of cataloger