Catalog Challenge – March 2014

The catalog: the main event for researchers where every artifact will be available and searchable after it has been scanned.

As the HCLE Virtual Museum develops, we’ll provide glimpses of the catalog because researchers may not want to wait. (Classes are already being taught based on the items scanned and stored by Stanford Digital Repositories.) The catalog may not be the most heavily visited page, but it may be the most valuable.


Here’s one of HCLE’s challenges, as viewed by Founder and Vision Keeper, Liza Loop. HCLE has a collection of physical items – books, papers, letters, videos, audios, software on all media, program listings, course syllabi, etc. Most of this “stuff” is on paper. IMG_2043 There are probably at least 10,000 items and the collection will grow from there. The physical paper needs to be scanned to create digital images readable online. The digital items need to be uploaded from their resident devices into a common format. In addition we have hundreds of web links to digital items. Then, both physical and digital items need to be cataloged.

We also need constituency relationship management software (CRM) to keep track of members, donors, potential funders, authors, staff, volunteers — all the people and institutions that are related to a museum, or library, or archive. For HCLE, it is possible for a person designated an educational pioneer to also be a contributor of various artifacts, and to be a volunteer and financial donor. The list will probably start with about 3,000 entries and grow.

We want to relate the information about the people with the items catalog without having to double enter any of the data. For example, the volunteer who enters a piece of software into the catalog should have a record in the CRM and an identifying field (element) in the catalog. What are the best (easiest) open source tools to use for this?

Digital Resource Locators

As our collection grows more of our digital items are being hosted online by other institutions, e.g. Stanford University Libraries Special Collections and Internet Archive, and not by HCLE itself. To make these items show up on a museum visitor’s screen requires each one to have its own internet address. There are several competing methods for identifying online resources and HCLE is working on choosing which one to use. Which scheme best handles link decay?

HCLE Tools

So far we’ve explored MS Access, MySQL, Omeka and we want to look at CiviCRM. One of our volunteer consultants suggested that we should think of the task as implementing CiviCRM and extending it to include the catalog. We prefer to have the catalog be a single, simple, flat table rather than a complicated relational structure. We don’t have sufficient experience in-house, so we’re open to advice and expect to depend on volunteers or raise the money for paid consultants.


We have the beginnings of a Catalog development team. Click here if you’d like to follow along with the team’s conversation. Send an email to if you would like to join the team.

Stay tuned.

Mostly written by Liza Loop, with a few edits by Tom Trimbath


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