Week 4: Cataloging Cultural Objects

The Cataloging Cultural Objects (CCO) guide reading covered key questions and issues of the cataloging process. First off, it’s important to understand that cataloging means to describe what the object is, who made it, where it was made, how it was made, the materials of which it was made, and what it is about. In order to achieve this, a cataloger needs to create metadata for the original data. The metadata of a painting, for example, would be the name of the author, the date it was made, the country of origin, the mearialsu and colors used, etc., while the data would be the painting itself. Viewers of galleries, and objects in general want to know this information in order to understand the object and to evaluate its significance and how they feel about it.

Thus, the cataloger is in a pretty important position of classifying and presenting the information about objects. According to this week’s reading, the cataloger must first decide what exactly he or she is cataloging: is it an original work or an image? Then, it’s also very important to establish relationships between various bits of information and to link the metadata to appropriate authority sources. With intrinsic linking, it makes it easier for viewers to search for and locate related works. The same goes for linking to authority sources, but authority sources additionally give more credibility and context to the work.

It’s noteworthy to consider that since a majority of museums are federally founded, the cataloging process will be dictated by those institutions. The reading discussed that there are many complications and nuances about creating minimal descriptions. It said: the specificity and exhaustivity of a catalogue may depend on the time, knowledge, and expertise of catalogers, the database structure and information system design, end-user needs and expectations, and long-established institutional practice.”

This discussion reminds me of Duarte & Belarde-Lewis’s article “Imagining Creating Spaces for Indigenous Ontologies,” which talked about ontologies and institutional versus community archives. And although the cataloger does not exactly have the “power to name” the objects, the role still gives authority to establish knowledge about those objects.

With this in mind, we, as consumers of this object metadata and information, must be a little critical of what is recorded about the object. It is quite realistic that certain facts and information about objects, especially cultural objects will be considered “not important enough” and be left out. Yet, even more often I would guess is the case of the sources that catalogers use in order to gather and code information about those cultural objects. For, cultural objects tend to have deeply rooted history that is closely intertwined with the people of whose culture they come from. And, we also know that traditional institutions and archives tend to create their own ontologies, representations, definitions, descriptions, and interpretations of objects, and neglect to give proper credit to the communities and the people’s stories that the cultural objects specifically belong to.



3 thoughts on “Week 4: Cataloging Cultural Objects”

  1. Such a great connection, Mariam. I love that you thought of the Duarte and Belarde-Lewis article — I did, too!

  2. It’s interesting to note that even cataloging can affect the way we perceive things, and this can come at a cost for those communities to which these objects belong to. We tend to take things in the way it is, accepting it as an established truth of some kind, but it is crucial for us to challenge such ideologies. It is easier said than done, but perhaps the cataloger should work and collaborate with community leaders or members to minimize damage and to share cultural knowledge in order to better represent the object as it should be.

  3. I think you have brought up a good point on the differences between institutions. You also mention that some information or metadata about a work may not be perceived as important enough to be documented. I’d also like to offer the idea that there may be data that is uncollectable, information that is completely lost and irretrievable even if the institution wanted it. This can often be the case with non-western works of art where the date or creation and the specific artist is just impossible to retrieve.

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