|Lesson:||Lesson 4: Description|
Most historical records programs use some kind of catalog to point researchers to the collections they are looking for. Your catalog may take the form of a card catalog made up of index cards arranged in specific ways, a database, a complex, computerized public access system, or even a simple list of collections.
No matter what form it takes, your catalog is the main point of access to your collections.
You will create a catalog entry for each collection that has been completely processed and is available for research. An entry should consist of at least the following informational elements:
The library and archival communities have created rules and tools for cataloging. If you want to learn more about these formalized cataloging rules, take a look at:
Is A Catalog Entry Enough?
Some collections may only need a catalog entry in order to make them adequately accessible for researchers. Small collections, consisting of a single or few items, are often described using only a catalog entry.
How do you know if a catalog entry is the only necessary description? Put yourself in the user's shoes! Ask yourself how persons looking for the information contained in the collection would look for it. What would they need to know in order to identify the collection as the source they need?
Generally, if a collection consists of a single record series and is relatively small in size a catalog entry will be adequate. Some examples include:
In these cases, researchers gain enough information from the catalog to understand what the records are, where they came from, and whether they are likely to have useful information.
A catalog entry alone won’t provide adequate information to a user when collections are larger and more complex. For example:
In these cases a catalog entry won’t provide enough information for researchers to find what they need. When the user needs a more detailed description of the collection, you will need to create a finding aid.