Cataloging research materials
July 17, 2006 8:32 AM   Subscribe

How do I catalogue (somewhat informally) a stack of letters, articles, photos and cassettes. I don't have any specialized software other than good old Excel and that MS database program (Access?). Thank you, fellow office zombies!

In the process of my research, I have acquired a decent stack of newspaper clippings, music tapes, interviews (tapes and transcripts), personal letters, photos and other small miscellany. My supervisor has tasked me with devising some way to catalogue them, but I have never done this before and I do not know what is required. So, I guess these are my questions:
What info do I need for each item?
How do I identify each item?
How can I do this on my available software?
posted by arcticwoman to Technology (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
anyinventory is pretty awesome, but you need a web server with a database to host it on. But for this, it seems like overkill. Does this stuff hold any importance? Does it need to be constantly looked through? Will anyone care if it's ever seen again?

I say:
  • sort it all by year
  • throw it in a cabinet or a bankers box
  • wipe hands on pants

posted by Mach5 at 8:47 AM on July 17, 2006

Response by poster: It will need to be looked at fairly regularly over the next several months as my supervisor is writing his book, and at some point we will be trying to get it into a museum or archive for public viewing.
posted by arcticwoman at 9:07 AM on July 17, 2006

I'd say that MS Access would probably be your best bet. The information that should be logged for each item would depend on the information available as well as the usefulness of the data. I might suggest something like this (develop and use your own object naming conventions):

Main inventory table (example name might be 'tblInventory'):
item ID (autonumber, primary key)
item type - ie. photo, article, multimedia
item title - ie. 'Interview with Jane Smith'
item date (or approx. age or whatever)

Then you could use secondary tables to store more detailed information relevant to each item type. For example:

Article Information
article ID (autonumber, primary key)
item ID (from your main inventory table)
Publication name - ie. New York Times
Publication date
issue number (if applicable, for periodicals)
article summary

Multimedia Info:
media ID (autonum, PK)
item ID (from main inventory table)
(if digitized, maybe a filesize info, path, etc)

a 'Misc item' table could store just the item ID and a description or summary.

You could catalog the items using the item ID from the main inventory table.
posted by mezzanayne at 9:12 AM on July 17, 2006

How you want to catalogue these depends a lot on what you're going to do, and how often, with the stuff after it's been catalogued or stored.

The Mach5 plan is ideal if this stuff is going to sit, unloved, for the foreseeable future—if someone might, now and then, need to look through it for something, they can find the general year (or month, or whatever granularity is appropriate for this pile of stuff) and then seive through that. Minimal effort to catalogue, limited effort expended on retrieval.

If you expect this stuff to get any real attention, though, you'll want to do some more organization. One direction you could take: sort everything by type (paper, cassette, photos) and subtype (news clippings, transcripts; interview tapes, music;), sort those by date if available (and any undated material can get sorted to Undated). Put together a spreadsheet with a separate sheet for each type or subtype, make an entry for each item with short description, and then print out and apply corresponding lables to each item. Store items in a physical analogue to your spreadsheet for straightforward retrieval.

That'll scale for small/medium collections of items, which it sounds like you're dealing with.
posted by cortex at 9:14 AM on July 17, 2006

There is a software called devonThink, but it only runs on Mac.

read this article:

IF you are able to buy this software and buy a mac, I would then proceed to digitize everything and throw it in to devonThink. I'm in the process of writing my MS thesis and this tool has proven to be invaluable and not that difficult to use.
posted by zzztimbo at 2:21 PM on July 17, 2006

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