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Please only use the word ‘metadata’ if you absolutely must

Cataloging is a major activity here in the Collections Division of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. Some of us do it all day, every day.

Here I examine the journey of a single paper item valuable to the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the cataloging process necessary to preserve it.

Cataloging means that we record in our database, PastPerfect, all the information we have on any item in question. Who donated that newspaper clipping? Oh, it was William Boehmer.

Did anything else come with that box of newspapers? Yes, an index and some slides.

Recording the information on the items the Museum owns keeps our accreditation with the American Alliance of Museums current, makes those materials available for research, and helps us maintain accuracy as we preserve Tribal history.

Seminole Tribune newspapers are cataloged, numbered and ready to be stored in a large archival box inside the Archives vault. (Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)

Without being cataloged they are just taking up space on the shelf. Wait…..what??

A large set of materials currently being cataloged was donated to the museum all the way back in 2005. They have been waiting to go into the catalog (database) for 10 years.

That is how it goes sometimes. We have all heard tales of old forgotten boxes being discovered by a student in the basement of a fancy institution – and after analyzing the items suddenly history is being re-written.

Museums get so much donated to them that it is impossible to keep up with all the work.

People want their precious and meaningful collections to go where they will be preserved and best kept. And if that collection has anything to do with the Seminole Tribe of Florida it is often offered to the Museum.

Then the acquisitions committee carefully decides what is important and authentic.

Every day is a flurry of activity as we go through the many steps necessary to catalog one item from start to finish. First, we must identify the item – what will we call it?

A discussion we had recently was whether to call the AQ (Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Quarterly) a newsletter or a magazine as it evolved over the years. Sounds boring, right? Wrong.

The staff of the Collections Division loves having those kinds of discussions. It takes a special kind of attention to detail (or some say a special kind of person) to work in collections management.

And don’t even get us started on the use of the word metadata – unless you love a rousing discussion on semantics. But I digress…

After we pass the first hurdle of deciding on a category for the object it is given an object I.D. number. This number is an extension of the accession number.

The accession number has already been assigned and most often reflects the year the museum acquired the item and the next lot number available.

Or it may refer to the year it was accessioned into the collection and receive a specific designation.

Often the first lot number of the year gets assigned to all memorabilia generated by the Tribe that year – or whatever memorabilia it receives.

If we receive an old brochure from an event in 1990 for instance and we don’t already have one in the archives we include it in that year’s accession record.

This year the accession number for all Tribal memorabilia was 2015.1. Then we add one more number to the end of the accession number.

The final number looks like this: 2015.1.3. That number would be assigned to the third piece of Tribal memorabilia the museum acquired in 2015.

Now the real work begins. And did I mention that anything we acquire has to go into isolation for two weeks?

To make sure there are no infestations or anything that could damage to the rest of the collection the museum has a room for each object to rest and relax.

After it passes inspection by our conservator the item is brought back to the library where the fun begins.

Opening up PastPerfect we find the skeletal record given to the item by our registrar when it first arrived.

In that record now goes a detailed description of its content, the size of the item, people associated with it (pictured or mentioned), and its correct citation, along with a scan (image of the actual item).

We are still not done. The item has to be housed using “best practices.” And for library books that includes: a vinyl cover, a Library of Congress number spine label and a barcode of that number on the inside back cover. Only then does it get shelved.

For an image or document the collections assistant determines the proper clear Mylar for its first housing and then slides in into an acid-free envelope before putting it in an acid-free box stored in the archives vault.

Our little walk down cataloging lane illustrates how every person on the Collections management team plays a role in the museum’s part in the preservation of the history of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

You have heard the saying “It takes a Village to raise a child”? When you think about the long process required to preserve a document for all time, you understand the dedication it takes, the cooperation of the Collections ‘village,” to fully a preserve the paper documents that support the story behind the story of the Unconquered – the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

For more information or a tour of the museum’s archives call Mary Beth Rosebrough at (863)-902-1113, ext. 12252.