Cataloging System: Between Standards and Specificity

Hello! My name is Svetlana Ushakova. I’m a member of the Metadata team at HCLE. I am also a student of the San Jose State University School of Information. Volunteering for HCLE gives me the possibility to apply and develop the knowledge I get at the university and make some observations about cataloging and metadata.

Every museum collection has to be cataloged, and every librarian or archivist knows that the principle goal of cataloging is to increase to the maximum extent information retrieval, or search effectiveness. Cataloging depends on two fairly contradictory needs. First, cataloging should be standardized so that people, and machines as well, can read, analyze and search across any collections regardless who cataloged them. In recent times, a bunch of new cataloging and metadata standards have appeared. Most of them are results of revolutionary changes in the information reality and in the new ways of creating, preserving, disseminating, and using information. One of those standards is Dublin Core metadata standard which allows proper cataloging of internet sources, as well as other more traditional sources. Other standards and cataloging rules, e.g. Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) and Resource Description and Access (RDA), though not directly related to wide-spread electronic resources, are aimed to reflect a new understanding of the hierarchy of relationship between various information entities and user-oriented navigation and search.


The second need is to tailor cataloging to the specialty of the collection. While libraries usually don’t have such needs, most special collections, archives and museums do. They may need to customize metadata standards and cataloging tools to describe the content of their collections. Of course, catalogers can use standard subject headings, but often there are simply not enough of them to describe the specialty and uniqueness of the collection and to ensure the search effectiveness across the collection. That’s why many archives and museums develop their own taxonomies and thesaurus. The other reason why archival and museum collections may need a special cataloging system is that the collection is highly dynamic and their curators need to keep track on changes. HCLE’s collection is this kind. We need to track software and other electronic media through the preservation process which may involve shipping items to other locations for scanning. We need to describe the relationship between physical artifacts, electronic surrogates, born-digital items, authors, programmers and users. We also want to include information about where and how items were used for learning. These features are not usually described by other metadata standards. HCLE is developing its own cataloging system that is based on FRBR, compatible with MARC and Dublin Core, and includes some special fields to track the unique character of the collection.

Read more about HCLE’s metadata project on our wiki at

Svetlana Ushakova


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