How to Batch Process Cataloging Museum Objects

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

February 28, 2024

Cataloging can take quite a bit of focused time. It is not something that can be quickly executed, nor something that is easy to perform while being interrupted with other tasks.

Additionally, there are economies to make by batching the work in a way that maximizes your focused time for the project. Knowing that you are at the beginning of a large cataloging project, it’s important to your future success that you map out a batch process to follow when cataloging your museum’s collection.

What’s a batch process?

A batch process or “batching” refers to bundling a series of activities together in a way that capitalizes on efficiencies while still reaching a specific goal.

What are the benefits of using a batch process for cataloging?

A cataloging project lends itself nicely to a batch process because the activities in the lead up to publishing an object catalog record are largely uniform and are performed repetitively for each record published. There are several benefits to using a batch process for cataloging, the most important of which is that is saves time. Creating a batch process for cataloging vast swaths of the collection can save us hours of our time multiplied exponentially by the number of object records we create.

Here are the benefits:

  • A timesaver
  • Supports consistent practices in quantity and quality of data
  • Limits skipped steps, mistakes, and errors
  • Capitalizes on freshly obtained knowledge from file referencing, research, etc.
  • Reveals contextual or relational information shared among objects

What do you need in place to batch process successfully?

We’ll outline a suggested batch process for cataloging in just a moment. First, we need a tool to help us capture the object information we encounter at each step. Even though you may have a museum Collections Management System (CMS) in place, using a spreadsheet for data capture and review is typically more effective for a batch process. With that in mind, a simple and straightforward spreadsheet (where each object is a row and each column is a field of data) will be needed before you can begin execute the batch process. Once you’ve had a chance to complete the batch of objects you’re working with and review the data, you can then import or copy this data from the spreadsheet into the CMS. Or, if you don’t have a CMS, keeping this data in a spreadsheet is a great interim place to keep it.

An Example of a Batch Process for Cataloging

The following is an example of how you could batch process a series of activities together:

  1. Select a group of objects with at least one criterion in common relevant to the data you would capture in a catalog record. For example, they’re all from the same donor, they’re all the same object type and material, or they’re created by a cultural group for a specific purpose, etc. Note: The number of objects you select will be dependent upon the length of time you have for each batch session.
  2. Gather the information available and review. This is typically the donor files, deeds of gift, accession records (if they exist), etc. Begin to capture the information you divine from each in to the catalog spreadsheet template.
  3. Pull and review the objects (if object stability allows). Take reference photographs, measurements, and make any notes relevant to the catalog fields you wish to complete. You may also be looking for any condition issues, creator signatures, and other aspects of note.
  4. Perform any additional research needed to craft object descriptions, creator biographies, cultural group or geographic identifications, etc.
  5. Construct larger narrative areas such as object description.
  6. Assign controlled vocabularies for subject, form/genre, cultural association, geographical term, etc.
  7. Review contents of the spreadsheet to ensure consistently filled in data and accuracy.

Refining the Process

As you execute each batch of work, you’ll likely find tweaks you need to make to the process, a re-arrangement of steps works better for you, or further efficiencies you can incorporate. This is normal for any project type that uses batch processing so don’t be afraid to experiment with what works best for you.


Hopefully you enjoy the batch process as much as I do. My brain seems to appreciate the dopamine of running at a high level of efficiency while getting things done and off the to-do list. As you become more comfortable with the concept, I encourage you to experiment with other areas of work that couple benefit with a batch process.

Additional Reading

Craft Museum Workflows That Include the CMS

Document Museum CMS Fields and Function

Establishing Museum CMS Best Practices

The Importance of Sustainable Museum Cataloging & How to Achieve It

Museum CMS 101: Workflow and Record Construction

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

To learn more, please join us for a free webinar What to Do When None of the Collection is Cataloged, TODAY February 28, 2024 at 11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern. (Can’t make it? Register anyway and we will send you a link to the recording and slides afterwards). Register now!

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