As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, ephemera includes “items of collectible memorabilia, typically written or printed ones, that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity.” Ephemera is also something most of us have in our houses, museums and collections. Ranging from historic letters to newspaper clippings and old birth certificates to movie tickets - we have a lot of it and we need an easy way to organize and catalog it.

You are in luck - whether you are a museum registrar or a collector, an archivist or a family historian, CatalogIt can help you easily document and catalog your ephemeral collections. Sometimes the hardest part is knowing where to start. I recently inherited boxes of family letters, documents, death and birth certificates, and report cards from every child in my family going back almost 100 years. Getting started on organizing this collection of related yet varied material is daunting. 

I considered two different options to get started. In an ideal world, I would want to catalog and photograph each item individually. Due to the sheer volume of material and my limited time, I know this is not going to be possible. My first step is to group my items together - I have chosen to group these items by year (you can also group by type or any other way that makes sense to you). If this was an archival collection assembled by a library, museum, or perhaps a company, the proper way to organize the collection would be by retaining their existing organization -  in the boxes/folders that were originally organized by the collector of the items. Because I am not an archive and as these items hadn’t been organized in any cohesive way previously, I am going to organize by type - all my photos in one set of boxes, family documents in another, and in yet another - all my random ephemera such as postcards, movie tickets, and programs from events I’ve attended. 

Once I have divided my collection of ephemera into discrete groups, I can go on to catalog my batches of items in CatalogIt just as I do my other collections. In order to easily capture all the information I want, I am using the “Archive” classification. I will start by uploading an image of the group of material. I will also photograph multiple items from this group to include in this entry. One of the great things about CatalogIt is that I can upload as many images I want to each entry. Next I will need to name this group. I will start with “Family Photos from 1971.” In “scope and content,” I  can describe this collection as completely as I want.  For this group, I am including: “Box of more than 100 family photos taken in Los Angeles and family vacations in San Diego, San Francisco, Hawaii, and Texas taken by the family in 1971.”  I have created a “collection” called “ephemera'' so I can easily group and locate all my ephemeral collections, no matter how they are catalogued. I can get even more specific in the “Archives Detail'' expansion panel. There, I can include the date range of the material, creator, size of the collection, languages included in the group, and more. This way, all the information is easily indexed and searchable. If there are specific items I want to say more about, I can then use the repeating  “Archive Items Details” expansion panel to individually describe as many select items as I would like.  Now, each archive record will act as a “finding aid” to help me locate specific items or types of items in each group. The rest of the fields in the classification are similar to those in other classifications.

There are occasions that I would want or need to catalog an item individually and more completely than I am able to in the “Archive” classification. For printed ephemera, such as old concert tickets or flyers, I could use the “Publication” classification and catalog an item individually and comprehensively using “ephemera” as the “publication type” in the “Publication Detail” expansion panel to help organize and group these items.  Of course if I am cataloging an individual family photo or a postcard, or even a map from my travels, I would use one of those classifications and still connect these materials to the “ephemera” collection I created. It is alway best to use the classification that best matches your item.

Once I have my ephemera documented in CatalogIt, along with the photographs of each item or collection, I  can share these items with my friends and family using the CatalogIt HUB. I can share just the items and information I want on the HUB so I can keep whatever parts of my collection, or information on specific collections, private. The HUB is also a great way for museums and other organizations to share ephemeral collections with visitors, researchers, students, and even other staff and volunteers. 

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