Completing the Story: Using Relationships in CatalogIt

Joy Tahan Ruddell

Museum & Collections Consultant
"Academic Family Tree of Philosophy" by Arenamontanus is licensed under CC BY 2.0

All collections have stories to tell. Each story begins with a single item — where, when, how, and by whom it was made; what it was used for; and how it came to be where it is today. As an item’s story unfolds, it is enriched by relationships to other items, people, and places. With the ability to record related persons, organizations, publications, or entries, CatalogIt empowers users to discover these interconnected stories and present them in an accessible, inspiring format. You’ll find the “Relationships” expansion panel in nearly all Classifications as well as in several Profiles where you can document the web of related persons, organizations, publications, events, and even other entries within your account.

So what relationships should you document? All of them. For example, you may have a banner in your collection that was featured in a parade in your hometown - that parade is a “related event.” By connecting objects to that event you can easily see everything collected there and help tell the story of that parade. Perhaps you’ve acquired a tie pin that was worn by John F. Kennedy. You would enter JFK as the “related person” and later find all the other items in your collection related to or used by him. You are also able to look JFK up in profiles and view all of the items in your collection he is related to - that way you can easily find out what other memorabilia you have related to JFK to see if that tie-pin you’ve found in a shop is the same as the one you’ve got. This is also a great way to show the shop owner, right on your cell phone, all the other JFK items you have.

Users can also relate other entries to each other. You may have two versions of the same print in your collection - you can relate those items together using “related entry,” or a negative in your collection that you later find photographic prints of - those are “related entries” as well. You may even have photographs from the same roll of film that are not exactly the same but are just seconds apart - those entries are related as well. 

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits to using the Relationships expansion panel is to share your own family history. You may have inherited all of the belongings of your great grandmother. You can catalog all of her family memorabilia - photographs, postcards, legal documents (such as birth certificates), and any other belongings - and relate them all to the associated family members, life events, places, or even organizations - to help tell the entire story of her life and your family. It is also simple to relate people to each other in the “Person Profile” record. You can add in a spouse, daughter, son, granddaughter, etc., and create a family tree in CatalogIt - all the while weaving the intricate story of your family.

The Relationships feature is also key in museum collections. Museums can tell the full story of an event by relating that event to objects collected or used that day. For example, if that museum's town celebrated their bicentennial, all items collected from that day, or about that event would all be related and thus help expand a story. It is also a great way for museums to define holes in their collection and aid in creating a collecting wish list of items they may need to help complete a story about an event or an historic place. The uses for the “Relationship” expansion panel are endless.

The ease by which you can see all the entries related to a particular profile is part of what makes “Relationships” so important.  A user can look up a single subject (William Shakespeare for example) and find all the items in their own collection related to that topic - even finding connections that they didn’t know existed.

The possibilities are endless and the stories limitless. Take advantage of “Relationships” and start uncovering your connections today!

About the Author

Joy Tahan Ruddell

Museum & Collections Consultant

Joy Tahan Ruddell has almost thirty years of collections and registration experience.  Prior to independent consulting, Joy coordinated the registration department at a large California museum which included insurance, loans, acquisitions, collections access and research, policy and procedure development and management, and intellectual property management. Working with staff museum-wide she developed programs that helped the community engage with collections. Joy has extensive experience with major collections projects including: inventories, collections moves, project management, acquisition and deaccession activities, NAGPRA projects, grant writing, insurance and risk management, and loan processing and organization. She specializes in helping museums build capacity through creative problem solving and determining scalable solutions. Extensive knowledge and advanced understanding of national standards allows her to assist with virtually any collections conundrum.