Cataloging in Public

Cataloging in Public

CultureLab is almost done, and we’re refining the activities we’ll start off with. We’ve got artifacts for a half-dozen courses there, ready for students to study. And we’ve got a few hands-on kits in the works.

And we’ve been exploring the possibilities of cataloging-in-public. We’ll bring uncataloged materials from our Collections Research Center in Bristol, 20 miles off campus, and have staff and students catalog them in the CultureLab. It not only saves them a trip to Bristol – it turns the cataloging into a public program. Two students will learn about the collection, the subject area, and how to catalog. We’ll set them up at the table in CultureLab, and they’ll catalog the collection: describing each piece, photography, numbering,doing the data entry. .

Our first experiment will be with a large group of Guatemalan textiles recently donated. They are bright and colorful, and I’ll hope that they attract visitors. (We’ll put up a sign saying “Ask me about these artifacts.”) And I hope that the  visitors will ask questions not only about the textiles but also about the museum, curating, and registration.

I know that many museums have tried conservation in public. Have any tried cataloging in public? One of the thing the students will do, as part of their project, is to explore other museums’ projects like this, so any suggestions most welcome. They’ll also look out for other ways that museums might open up the behind-the-scenes work of museums to the public, and come up with ways to evaluate the work.

A university museum needs to teach many things: care for collections, teach about subject matter, and teach about museums. My hope is that this project will let us accomplish all three.

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