Importance of Compatible Cataloging

Cataloging is an essential first step to preservation. It allows us first to know accurately what we have, to establish the value of the holdings and to prioritize preservation work.

Those who support preservation activities are very concerned about providing access to collections they support. Intellectual access to media arts collections is extremely limited. There is often no compatible electronic information system in place that is easily accessed and allows users to share information about holdings. Many groups have no comprehensive paper records, coordinated paper catalogs, union lists, paper indexes or any other useful finding aids to allow researchers, programmers, educators, or other interested parties access to their collections.

Access to the works themselves is also limited. Many of the tapes cannot be played back at this time. Until the tapes are identified and prioritized in importance, an organization can't make sensible decisions about which need to be preserved.

Using a compatible electronic cataloging system would help groups with tape collections to:

  • share information about holdings, fostering coordination on physical preservation of works that are at greatest risk
  • make use of existing cataloged information about a particular holding
  • facilitate access to the work by identifying the location of a particular work, the type of access offered by the archive, and to whom.
  • determine whether a particular work is original and unique, and prioritize works most in need of preservation
  • describe their holdings, and generate outside support for preservation activities
  • facilitate the deposit of works at risk in other, more stable, environments

Standardized union catalogs exist in public libraries, museums and other institutions, but they have been designed for books and objects, rather than moving image or sound works. MARC or machine-readable cataloging is a standardized system set up by the Library of Congress and used nationally. It presents problems when it is used with film, video, audiotapes, CDs and new media works. The National Moving Image Database or NAMID project, a program of the American Film Institute's National Center for Film and Video Preservation, advocates a union system designed specifically for film and video. The goal is to encourage all film and video collections to use this single compatible computerized MARC-compatible database to catalog holdings. The information from each contributing archive could be put into one on-line catalog of holdings, which would be searchable on the Internet.

History of the IMAP Cataloging Project

The media arts field has been successful in developing a national model for establishing a compatible information system for moving image collections across a broad geographic region. Independent Media Arts Preservation (IMAP)  is distributing a MARC-compatible cataloging template that was developed by cataloger Jim Hubbard, as part of the Regional Cataloging Project of Media Alliance. Henry Mattoon of the National Moving Image Database (NAMID) at the American Film Institute bases the template upon a design; former NAMID Director Margaret Byrne initiated the design. In the early 1990's, NAMID assisted a number of media arts groups to do initial catalogs, including Video Data Bank, Electronic Arts Intermix, Anthology Film Archives, the Experimental TV Center and the Kitchen.

Further distribution of the template was carried on by Media Alliance, providing training and technical assistance to groups in upstate New York, with NAMID's assistance. This work is now being continued through the IMAP Cataloging Project, and the scope of the work is being expanded through an online component. For a copy of the template contact IMAP

The template can be used by people without cataloging experiences but who have some familiarity with computer databases. FileMaker Pro is easy to use and operates on both Macintosh and IBM platforms. The data captured in the FileMaker Pro template can be exported to other databases. The template is in use by the Kitchen, the Experimental TV Center, Visual Studies Workshop, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Paper Tiger Television, and Downtown Community Television Center, and is regularly requested by artists and organizations nationwide.

The Online Cataloging Tutorial

With assistance from a Technology Planning Grant offered by the New York Foundation for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts, IMAP conducted a planning and feasibility study for an online tutorial using the template described above. The online tutorial is designed to assist groups and artists to do preliminary cataloging based on a standardized template and to become part of the larger network of archives. The tutorial will use a downloadable template, and will include FAQ's and other teaching aids. The tutorial lays foundation for a more long-term goal, the establishment of a web-based searchable database

While IMAP recognizes that an online tutorial cannot take the place of professional cataloging, most groups will devise a cataloging system of their own because they need to generate lists of titles in their collections. These systems often rely on a variety of word processing and database programs with no relationship to standard cataloging processes and procedures. They are frequently incompatible with other database systems. Often if a professional cataloger is brought in, the system is scrapped and the cataloging work begins again with a new template. The IMAP template provides a standard set of fields, and a standard way of entering data into the fields.

Cataloging is usually done in stages. The stages range from an inventory level record which includes the title, name of maker and other information easily obtained from labels on the work and its container, to a full MARC record which requires viewing of the tape and completing Name and Subject Authority work. The cataloger also has the choice of a collection level record which describes a related group of works in a single record, or an item level record which describes each work in its own record. Through the tutorial, IMAP encourages the use of item level cataloging because it is more useful for research and preservation decision-making. The template is distributed with a set of instructions that explain each field and provides illustrative examples.

The research and planning for the tutorial have addressed many important questions. Two reports were written, one by Jim Hubbard and one by C.B. Cooke of Glyph Media. Contact IMAP for copies of the reports. Planning for the implementation of the cataloging tutorial is on-going.

Further Resources

Archival Moving Image Materials: A Cataloging Manual  Revisions to Archival Moving Image Materials: A Cataloging Manual. Compiled by Wendy White-Henson. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, 1984.

AMIA Cataloging and Documentation Committee

Extensive information and links

AMIA Compendium of Moving Image Cataloging Practice

National Moving Image Database at the American Film Institute
NAMID serves as a working tool to make informed decisions about the preservation of moving image materials; facilitates shared cataloging; and increases access to primary research materials on moving images. NAMID collects film/videographic and holdings data from archives, producers, studios, networks, libraries and other repositories across the United States. The NAMID database houses more than 200,000 records (over 160,000 of which are in USMARC), contributed by over two dozen archives. The database structure, which is modular, was designed to serve a wide variety of users, including public archives, studios, media centers, historians, researchers and catalogers. As part of NAMID's effort to facilitate the creation of a comprehensive source of information on the nation's film and video materials, NAMID is actively engaged in the establishment and promulgation of national standards and practice for the documentation and preservation of moving images.