How I Use CatalogIt as a Collections Consultant

Joy Tahan Ruddell

Museum & Collections Consultant
Painting by Lorene Anderson, “Tangle”, 2001. Oil and wax on panel

Making the transition from museum registrar to contract registrar can be both rewarding and challenging. Balancing multiple projects at once is an obstacle that CatalogIt is perfectly poised to assist with.

As an Independent Museum Professional (IMP), I work with many private collectors, artist foundations, and small museums. Many of my clients do not utilize a database (relying on paper instead), or they use an Excel spreadsheet, complicated FileMaker Pro database, or tables in Word documents. Before starting any new project, I routinely ask how collections are currently managed. This is an integral question when I am creating a contract for the project. Because of the ease of use, cost effectiveness, and power of CatalogIt, many of my clients have either migrated from their existing systems or began using CatalogIt from scratch. Using CatalogIt has allowed me to streamline my work and results in a more affordable contract for my clients. Using CatalogIt has the added benefit that moving forward, my clients have a professionally organized collection that allows them to easily and visually access and search their collections from anywhere they are, increase their capacity, and have a system that anyone in their organization or family can use with minimal training. 

How to select a plan:

Since I work with many different types of collections, I always ensure that everyone signs up for the right type of account. CatalogIt has four account types: Museum, Personal, Organization, and Conservator. My clients tend to fall under the first three categories. 

I always recommend the Museum Plan for all of my museum clients. This plan type is the most robust and allows for tracking museum-specific activities such as accessioning and deaccessioning. I recommend the Organization Plan for Artist Foundations and collectors with extensive collections that are actively lent for exhibitions or move frequently to different locations (office to office, to storage, or to and from summer and winter homes). The Personal Plan works well for collectors who want a comprehensive inventory of their collections and wish to track insurance values and locations, but do not tend to be actively lent for museum exhibitions. The Personal Plan is also great for estate planning and inventories, collections liquidation (sending collections to auction or dispersing to family as part of settling an estate), and artist legacy projects. 

All plans allow for multiple users, so every client can add the collaborators they need to ensure everyone on their team has the access they need. Each plan type also includes web publishing through the CatalogIt HUB, so collections can be easily and widely shared to the web if desired.

Types of projects:

One of the things I love about being an IMP is the variety of projects that I am involved with. After more than 25 years working as a museum registrar, transitioning to being an Independent allowed me to select the types of projects I wanted to work on and gave me the opportunity to work on many different types of collections activities. 

Using CatalogIt, I have helped organize several estates, inventory an artist’s collection, manage a traveling exhibition, document an uncataloged museum collection, migrate and train staff at a university gallery to facilitate their collections inventory, and migrate a collection from an obsolete collections management system to CatalogIt. I have incidentally also used CatalogIt to organize my own personal collection for insurance purposes, as well catalog boxes of family photos and memorabilia. While I have not used CatalogIt for 100% of my projects, many of my clients chose to make the switch to it at my recommendation.

Museum Inventory Projects:

Using the Museum Plan to inventory your collection gives you access to your database wherever you are from your smartphone. Since CatalogIt is cloud-based, all you need is an internet connection and you can walk from storage area to storage area with your mobile phone or tablet to easily and quickly inventory each area, making condition notes as needed and taking additional photos of objects as you go. 

Organizing Estates:

The CatalogIt Personal Plan is ideal for inventorying and organizing an estate. Documenting all possessions (artwork and otherwise) is straightforward, and ensuring the date, condition, value, and disposition are recorded and tracked is simple and comprehensive. For step-by-step instructions on how to organize an estate, check out our blog post, Organizing an Estate Using CatalogIt.

Artist Legacy Projects:

The CatalogIt Personal Plan also works well for artist legacy projects. This allows for a simple yet comprehensive inventory of the body of work which includes location, condition, valuation, and physical description. The ability to upload different types of files allows for multiple images, PDFs of condition reports and other written documentation, Excel spreadsheets, and web links for more information on artwork that has been published to the web by their gallery or representative.

Artist Foundations:

Using the Organization Plan allows you to comprehensively document and track your collections. This includes recording exhibition activity, insurance and valuation documentation, condition and conservation history, and location of every item in your collection. CatalogIt also allows you to document work for a Catalog Raisonne project, listing the provenance and disposition of all work made by the artist. This is key for artist legacy projects as well.

Traveling Exhibition Coordination:

Both the Museum and Organization Plans allow you to track traveling exhibitions from inception to completion easily and comprehensively. Tracking lenders, venues, object lists, interpretive labels, and more is simple. For more on tracking and coordinating exhibitions, check out our blog post, Tracking Museum Exhibitions.

Managing Multiple Projects:

Being an IMP often means taking on two or more collections projects at the same time. Juggling these projects is a complicated endeavor but CatalogIt makes it easier by allowing you to manage multiple accounts with a single login (while maintaining security between accounts). An IMP can toggle seamlessly between multiple accounts by simply going to the main menu and selecting the arrow next to the account name. This brings up the list of the other accounts you are a collaborator on so you can select the account you wish to work with:

Being able to manage multiple clients at the same time is a key part for my project management and allows me to easily shift between two or more accounts quickly and seamlessly. 

Every project is different. Contact us at to learn more about the ways CatalogIt can help you further your IMP career!

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.