Museum Cataloging

Greetings All,

My name is Jason, and I am a history student from U of M Flint working at the wonderful Whaley House Historic Museum through the University’s work study program. Recently I have had the opportunity to catalog some of our many artifacts at the house, and I wanted to take some time to blog about the process to our followers. Now, I realize that reading about this process may not have all of you on the edge of your seats, but it truly is an interesting and rewarding activity. Also, a little insight into the world of museum employment may heighten one’s appreciation of the work that goes in to making your favorite exhibit possible.

The room in which I was working is our back parlor, or music room. Since my job was to catalog every item in the room, my first task was to walk around with my notebook and make a list of all of the objects, complete with a description and measurements for each. This was actually the longest part of the process, as I had to make sure not to miss a single object. Next, I took pictures of everything on my list, sometimes multiple shots. Then, I took all of my information and entered it into Past Perfect, a computer program specifically designed for museum data entry. It was here that I assigned each object with a catalog number, using a method involving a series of numbers indicating the date of accession, the collection number, and the object number. I also loaded the pictures of the objects to their corresponding object page. Sound fun so far?

catalog notebook

Next came labeling the objects themselves. There are a variety of methods used to label museum artifacts, and the use of each one depends on the materials to be labelled. Other than acid free tags attached by string to some objects, I mainly used a chemical process which involves clear acrylic B-67, white gloss acrylic, and a special ink pen. the first step was to apply a base coat of the B-67, then allow that to dry.


Then, I applied a coat of the white acrylic over the base coat, and also allowed that time to dry.


After that was dry, I very carefully used the ink pen to write the object’s catalog number on the white coat. This was difficult, as I had to write very small and keep my hand quite steady.


Finally, I applied another coat of the clear gloss to seal and protect the label.


When all was dry, I replaced the object back on display and welcomed a sense of accomplishment at having performed a task that will benefit the museum for as long as those labels last, which, if I did it right, will be for the rest of the museum’s lifetime.

Thank you for reading, and I look forward to posting weekly while I am employed at the Whaley Historic House Museum.



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