Cataloguing – the Spectrum standard

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You should have a policy on cataloguing. This could either be a standalone document or part of a wider collections management policy. Either way, in deciding your policy you will most likely need to consider these questions:

  • What is your broad approach to cataloguing different parts of your collection (eg some parts catalogued as individual objects and others at group-level only)?
  • Are you aiming to meet any external cataloguing standards (eg using templates, classifications or terminologies agreed within subject specialisms)?
  • Beyond the inventory-level minimum, what should be in a ‘core’ catalogue record for different parts of your collection?
  • If you have not already met your ‘core’ standards, what are your priorities for doing so?
  • How will you ensure names, dates, places and other keywords are recorded consistently?
  • What catalogue information will you make available to your users, and how?
  • How will you protect confidential information, including personal data?
  • For new accessions, what is your target time for creating the agreed ‘core’ catalogue record?
  • How will you make sure that new information arising from other procedures is referenced in catalogue records?

You should have a written procedure that explains the steps to follow when cataloguing objects. Spectrum’s suggested procedure is a useful starting point, but however you do it, your own procedure should meet the following minimum requirements:

Minimum requirement Why this is important
You have a catalogue system in place that allows you to record the minimum information needed for the Inventory procedure and, beyond that, supports your cataloguing policy. You have a basic framework to which you can add more significant information over time in line with your cataloguing policy.
Catalogue records are linked to the objects they describe via unique accession numbers that are securely associated with the items themselves. You can always link objects to the information in their catalogue records.
Catalogue records cross-refer to relevant information held in your system (whether on paper or digitally) or available elsewhere. All the relevant information about an object is available for its management and use.

You do not spend time researching an object unaware of previous work.

Your system can reliably retrieve relevant catalogue information to meet the needs of users. Your users can easily access information about your collections.

You do not waste time trawling through search results that are not what you wanted.

You capture relevant information resulting from other procedures in a timely way. Your catalogue records are up to date.

You can re-use exhibition text to improve your online collection database.

You keep an up-to-date backup of your catalogue records. You do not risk losing many years’ work in the event of a fire or other disaster.


Date created: 2017

Publisher: Collections Trust