When the historical society’s current Registrar Brienne Wong joined the team, she faced the challenge of recording an immense number of objects.
Brienne and the Chinese Historical Society of America needed a cataloging system that was flexible, intuitive, expansive and secure.
“Most of the collection was not documented, so having a working database to give us a fresh start and be able to hunker down and getting all of our objects cataloged and recorded was really important.”
Promoting Chinese legacies and contributions in America since its founding in 1963, the CHSA collects and catalogs photographs, 3D objects, and archives spanning mostly the 19th and 20th centuries.
The organization chose CatalogIt to replace its previous error-prone collections management system, to document its thousands of items representing the vast experiences and accomplishments of the Chinese community in the United States.
Brienne said that the prior database in use was outdated, crashed a lot, and was difficult to navigate. It was hard to see everything in the collections, she noted, and the cataloging process was inefficient and frustrating. When CatalogIt’s founders reached out to her, she was curious about what the software had to offer.
“I was really interested in how [CatalogIt] worked because it was cloud-based so it could be updated wherever I wanted to” she said, adding “being able to see everything on one page, it was really streamlined and it was all updated in real time.”
Given the limited budget of a small museum, the software’s reasonable price point stood out to Brienne. She also expressed that CatalogIt’s selective publishing features could promote the meticulous work that her team puts into the CHSA’s collections.
Brienne spends much of her time documenting items ranging from photographic prints depicting the daily work lives of Chinese Americans, including performing artists, telephone operators, and soldiers in San Francisco’s Chinatown to utilitarian objects like clothing, kitchen items, and tools like the abacus.
No longer struggling with an awkward, antiquated CMS, Brienne felt she was finally doing her collections justice as she immersed herself in CatalogIt.
“It's really nice that (...) I’ve been able to kind of distinguish between the objects that I want to publish and make available and the objects that I don’t want to make available for people to see” said Brienne.
She added that being able to easily duplicate records was useful, since she often catalogs batches like a set of 72 postcards with the same image, for example. She also found the key tag search feature and the location fields particularly useful.
Before implementing CatalogIt, Brienne often faced the challenge of responding to requests about substantial collections. People frequently ask to see the Daniel A. Ching collection, a compilation of postcards, chalkware, advertising trade cards, sheet music and toys, which contains 10,000 objects.
“Because we didn't have a finding aid and our database wasn’t up, it was very hard to help that person figure out what they’re looking for and for me to really know what they’re looking for.”
Now, she is able to easily narrow down entries using the Collections profile field or by searching her archives folder and quickly scrolling to the accession number she is looking for.
Beyond responding to external requests, Brienne has found CatalogIt empowers her in her creative process. In brainstorming new exhibitions, she has enjoyed innovatively organizing her items in the interface, creating folders to plan or promote exhibits like last year’s “Called To Rise” exhibit, which featured Chinese American participation in the China Burma India Theater of World War II, a story that is largely forgotten.
She is adding to a new research folder for an upcoming World War II themed exhibit, which she plans to publish to the society’s website using CatalogIt’s API integration when the exhibit airs later this year.
Brienne notes that the API integration with their website was a “big asset.”
“I think also being able to be creative in how we organize things has been really nice, being able to create our own folders and organize things how we see fit and also create folders that are outside our basic archives objects and photographs folder…”
The CHSA now has over 4500 objects cataloged and their collections are accessible for remote work. After implementing CatalogIt, the historical society’s team can more easily document vast collections, creatively organize and implement exhibitions, and efficiently respond to research requests.