Prepare Templates and Documents

During the workshop, volunteers will need a way to record the information they are collecting about the materials.


For film materials it is standard practice to identify the items and fill out a condition report as an item is inspected. One or more tables should be provided for this activity. This report can be filled out on paper, and later transcribed by volunteer catalogers at the next station, or entered directly into the cataloging template, discussed below.

Video and Audio

For video and audio materials, information gained from an inspection is entered directly into a invenotry form or spreadsheet. Depending on the workflow, printed worksheets allow participants to collect item information quickly and enter it at a later time. A checklist for a condition check, such as checking for the presence of contaminants or a poor wind, can be provided in addition to standard vocabulary for describing the condition.

Data Collection and Entry

Volunteers will enter information about the items into a inventory web form or spreadsheet. You should determine the structure of the cataloging template and its data elements, or fields, beforehand in consultation with the partner organization (see What To Ask below). This template will be used on all the volunteer catalogers’ computers, so it should be created using common software such as Google Drive or Microsoft Excel that is cross-platform, preferably web-based.

Note that it is not necessary (and perhaps not desirable) for volunteers to enter data directly into the partner organization’s cataloging system. Rather, the catalog records should be collected by organizers at the end of the workshop, compiled as necessary, and quality-checked by either organizers or the host organization before they are imported into the host organization’s existing system.

Provide Guidelines

Volunteer catalogers should be given clear guidelines on how to enter data into the cataloging template. One way to help ensure consistency is to develop “controlled vocabularies,” or permitted lists of terms for each field. For example, you may have a field for “Film Base” in which the only allowable terms are “diacetate,” “triacetate,” and “polyester.” For data elements in which one cannot use controlled vocabularies, such as titles or dates, you should provide rules for the field’s syntax. For example, you might require dates to be entered in “yyyy-mm-dd” form, or titles to be entered using Title Capitalization form.

In preparing to catalog the collection during the workshop, it is important to talk to the partner organization about their existing cataloging system and to review their cataloging documentation. This will help to ensure that the cataloging work done by volunteers is structured and formatted in a way that is most useful for the host organization.

As noted above, the first step is to find out if the partner organization has any pre-cataloging information about the collection you will be working with — such as a box-level inventory or documentation from the donor. This information can be used to prioritize items for inspection or playback, to assign unique identifiers, or to pre-populate fields in the cataloging template.

What to Ask

What software application does the organization use for keeping track of their collections?

What data formats can be imported into that system?

Tip: The template that the volunteers use during the workshop does not have to use the same software application as the partner organization’s cataloging system. Just ensure that the data can be exported from the template in a format that can be imported into the organization’s system.

What data elements (i.e. fields) does the host organization use to describe their other materials of the same format as the ones you will be working with?

Tip: When designing your cataloging template for volunteers, create fields that match those used by the host organization. If there are too many, find out which fields are required, are recommended, and are considered most important by the organization.

Does the host organization have authority lists (i.e. controlled vocabularies) that describe their preferred terminology for subjects, names, or other fields?

Tip: Having pre-defined values (e.g. dropdown lists) for certain fields can make data entry easier for your volunteers and help to ensure consistency and accuracy. Make use of the host organization’s authority lists to define these values, such as a title authority list.

What levels of arrangement/description are used by the host organization?

Tip: This information can help determine how volunteers should create records in the workshop cataloging template. For example, for film materials, should one record (e.g. one row in a spreadsheet) describe a set of objects (e.g. 5 film reels that make up a work), a discrete physical item (e.g. a film can), or other discrete items (e.g. small rolls of outtakes inside a single can)? This should be decided ahead of time. For videos, one record per item is the standard. However, there may be a series title that would be important to record in each record. Prior to the workshop, determine how to best communicate the standard practices to the volunteers. For example, using flip chart paper on the walls of the cataloging area can remind the volunteers of agreed upon practices, such as the video inspection checklist. It is important that one person be designated as the ‘go-to’ person for questions about standard practices during the workshop.