Sitting on rich archaeological soil trafficked by diverse groups over thousands of years, Rancho Los Cerritos historic house boasts a wide variety of artifacts ranging from Native American baskets to Victorian-era household objects, from photographs of past occupants to farm tools used on the site.
Documenting, preserving, and presenting the site, its collections, and its communities’ complex, the historic site prioritizes telling the overlapping stories nestled in the adobe walls of the farmhouse. Rancho Los Cerritos has the distinction of being a local, state, and national landmark, which means its collections are framed against the backdrop of historical narratives at each of these levels.
Like many museums and historic sites, the institution faces the challenge of remaining relevant and accessible to visitors and the public in the 21st century, which is where collections management comes into play.
Sarah Wolk Fizgerald, the adobe ranch house’s curator, heard about CatalogIt at a conference, where the product caught her attention. After the conference, she stumbled upon a CatalogIt business card she had tucked away. She wondered what the platform had to offer, and signed up for a trial subscription to see for herself.
Later, as Sarah’s 60-day trial was coming to an end, she faced a dilemma. She liked the software, but Rancho Los Cerritos, like many cultural institutions in the midst of the COVID crisis, faced the financial uncertainty and rising anxieties of the times and had put a spending freeze in place. When she came to CatalogIt and explained the situation, the staff was happy to work with her.
“We, like many nonprofits and museums, have definitely felt the financial impacts of the pandemic” she said. “Using the program without interruption (...) it's just something that we're incredibly grateful for.”
Sarah now accesses the museum’s over 14,000 records in the database, has remotely trained several new staff members on the program, and has promoted the service to her colleagues at other institutions in the area.
Still, for collections of this size, it is crucial to have an agile management system to create, store, and search entries.
“The main difference in my experience of working with the programs is that CatalogIt is a lot more streamlined and user friendly, especially with searchability, which is a lot of what I do” she said. “I use the database to search for information or photographs in our collection, and it's a lot easier to do in CatalogIt.”
Covering ranching and Southern California history, the adobe farmhouse showcases collections representing the many forces that shaped the site over time. The collections include a large volume of photos and archives as well as 3D items like textiles, kitchen items, and tools. With such a vast collection, most curators would face frustrations in the process of quickly and correctly updating a database.
“I like that you could very easily and quickly clean up your entries” she said. “So that was something that really stood out to me.”
With CatalogIt, Sarah can swiftly address inconsistencies and delete redundancies. She also enjoys the option of directly uploading her entry photos from her phone. Before, adding and storing photos was complicated and required many steps. Now, the process of adding photos -- which contribute a gold mine of information to an item entry-- is much faster than it was in their previous database.
With CatalogIt, Sarah quickly pulls up records when volunteers or staff request information. This also helps for processing research requests from students or scholars.
In Rancho Los Cerritos’ short stint with CatalogIt, Sarah has already trained two interns and one volunteer on a completely remote basis. Given the extreme limitations on operations, Sarah felt safe relying on CatalogIt’s cloud-based multi-platform system.
Accessing collections in an entirely remote format through the database, the new staff were able to complete their regular work as collaborators on the account, an option that was lacking in Sarah’s previous database.
“I think internships are very much a part of education at our site, and so it really streamlines the process of training and empowering interns and volunteers” said Sarah. “Being able to get people trained has been very easy, where I just kind of give a quick summary (…) and I say there's some tutorial videos. Watch them. Let me know if you have any questions, and everybody's been able to figure it out very quickly.”