OT Re: Cataloguing in a museum setting [was Re: nonsense...]

Jules Richardson jules.richardson99 at gmail.com
Thu Oct 28 10:23:18 CDT 2010

feldman.r at comcast.net wrote:
> The Anthropology collections at FMNH were numbered sequentially, which was
> a bit of a PIA. Having looked in the catalog ledger books, I might know
> that artifact 186276 is a Nazca pot collected by Alfred Kroeber in 1927,
> but is 186277 from the same collecting field trip or is it something from
> Tibet? Having a number like 1927.23.49 for that pot would make it easier to
> find associated artifacts.

Why does that need to be "encoded" in the artifact number? Why isn't there a 
"field trip ID", and to find anything from a given field trip you just search 
for everything with the same ID?

I think a lot of these systems fall down because they try to put too much 
meaningful information into one single ID, and that doesn't scale well as the 
system grows - they'd be better off having an ID linking a single item to a 
database record, and other fields in that database record may be used to tie 
that individual item to related ones.

In a computing context, I hit the same issue of trying to decide what level to 
catalogue at - e.g. should I catalogue every board in a system with a separate 
database entry because capturing that data might be important? But taken to 
extremes, if I did that does it mean I should be recording every IC on every 
board because that S100 system in the corner over there happens to be the only 
one with an example of serial board "foo" which uses IC "bar"? There's a bit 
of a "where does it end?" aspect to it all :-)

I kept finding myself leaning toward just doing things at the "system box" 
level along with taking of extensive photographs (and listing of internal 
cards and "important stuff"*), and if a researcher wanted more detail than 
that then they'd just have some digging to do (which is fun anyway).

* as was said, whoever does the cataloguing needs knowledge of the item being 
catalogued, and it shouldn't be down to just one person (the same thing is 
true when it comes to deciding what items should be accepted into the 
collection - the field's just too diverse for it to be down to one person, and 
an item which seems dull to one member might be recognised as significant to 

And don't even get me started on how to try and organise stuff in storage... ;-)



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