“Data, data, data” I can’t digitise without catalogue data

It’s another of those famous lines from a Sherlock Holmes story “Data! data! data!" he cried impatiently. "I can't make bricks without clay.” (The Adventure of the Copper Beeches) but it can be applied to many areas including archival practice particularly digitisation. Archives @PAMA recently covered the topic of digitisation in their blog Why Don’t Archivists Digitise Everything? Part of their argument covered Meta Data and how important it was to give archives context before digitisation. This has inspired us, in this week’s blog I would like to look more at the importance of cataloguing records before digitising them in relation to the Royal Voluntary Service Archive and Heritage Collection.


What is cataloguing?

Cataloguing is the process of creating a formal description of records held within an archival collection. This is based on a hierarchical structure showing where Items, files and series best fit within a collection and describes details such as the content, context, admin and custodial history, date and access details. Cataloguing records can help to make collections more accessible with details and keywords which help researchers find what they are looking for and link different records together on the same topics. If you would like to know more about Archival description why not read  Organising Archive material HeritageBulletin Volume 6.

Why is it important for digitisation?

Cataloguing is important to digitisation because it turns a single item on its own which may not tell us much about the activities of an organisation into a record which has context, a history of its own and links it to the rest of the collection. For example when cataloguing photographs, publications or posters if there are similar items or a series relating to each other we record their references in the Related Material Field. This helps lead researchers in looking at all the material available on a chosen topic. Recording this data before digitising records also gives the archivists the opportunity to assess the preservation needs of the material and repackage it into archival standard folders, boxes, papers etc.. It also allows of consultation on the need to digitise material and if digitised material could be published online depending on condition, content and copyright. This work can be very important in terms of preservation and access.

Our Collections and how cataloguing has helped make them more accessible

Cataloguing different parts of the Archive & Heritage Collection has allowed us to publish the catalogue records online for people to search for themselves. This work has given the team a greater knowledge of what materials are held in the collection and led in some case to digitisation.

Photographs and Posters

The Archive has been focusing on cataloguing and digitising records since 2010 and started with a collection of publicity photographs. Creating detailed descriptions of photographs allows researchers to find photographs easily and quickly by searching key words. Cataloguing also allows the Charity to record useful data about copyright holders and to distinguish which images can be used in promoting its rich history and heritage in many of the services it provides today. The Poster collection was catalogued and digitised in 2012 which has provided the same advantages as the photographs.

WVS/WRVS Bulletin/Magazine and WRVSAssociation

Newsletters Over the years Royal Voluntary Service has produced a number of publications including magazines containing news stories and information about its activities and that of the Association (1971-2013). Using the description field on our catalogue to its advantage and OCR software we were able to record all the information in each WVS/WRVS Bulletin/Magazine and WRVS Association Newsletters and make it searchable. Being able to do such a specific search can save time in trying to find articles covering particular services or activities. Recording months and dates also allows us to pin point key dates such as the first Trolley shop or mobile canteen.


Narrative Reports

Between March 2012 and March 2014 we catalogued all the Narrative Reports held in the collection which were written between 1938 and 1965. The information recorded included the areas the reports were from and this work enabled the archive to develop the Kickstarter Project Hidden histories of a million wartime women. The £27,724 raised via the crowdfunding site meant we could digitise all the reports written between 1938 and 1945 and publish them online. This allows more people access to these hugely important documents and it all started with a cataloguing project.

In General

The items mentioned above are also very fragile and cataloguing means we can pinpoint the exact records we are looking for without rifling through a number of documents before finding the correct information. Digitisation which leads on from this  helps us further in preserving fragile items as digital images are used as preservation copies for research meaning we reduce handling the original. Cataloguing also assist with the creation of finding aids such as the Guide to Archive Online; using data and description fields from the catalogue means we can assist researchers in their search for more knowledge about WVS/WRVS.

I have not included Voice of Volunteering Oral Histories in this week’s Blog as they are born digital records and in a future blog we’ll look at the difference between digitisation and born digital.


Conclusion

Cataloguing is the process of creating a formal description of records held within an archival collection. It is important to create these records before digitising to provide context and allow archivists to assess the need for the material to be digitised. Working on a project to both catalogue and digitise material can also help with preservation and digitisation which are very important activities in archives. Since 2010 Royal Voluntary Service has been working to catalogue its collection which as a result has led to some interesting digitisation projects including photographs, Narrative Reports and publications. However without the first stage of creating information about the these records this work could not have been carried out.

Posted by Jennifer Hunt, Deputy Archivist at 09:00 Monday, 13 August 2018.

Labels: Archives, Cataloguing , Digitisation, Records, Access, Preservation

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