Catalog vs curate

Tue Sep 19 13:11:42 CDT 1995

Last week on TAXACOM, Doug Yanega <dyanega at DENR1.IGIS.UIUC.EDU> offered
these scenarios:

> [...] as long as the material being catalogued has *already* been well-
> curated, then a straight cataloguing effort is appropriate, and only a
> technician is required.
> [...]
> In another project ... the material was newly-acquired, and the
> processes of curation and cataloguing were simultaneous, so having
> me (the curator) doing all the data entry rather than a technician
> was not unreasonable.

Okay, to catalog something, you must have data, which means some level
of prior curation.  But what about the very common situation where the
prior curation is ancient and scant?  You *know* it is below current
standards, and that it could be improved by meticulous investigation
of historical documents, etc.

When should you merely transcribe the data from prior curation?  Can
you use a technician to catalog specimens that are not "well curated"?
When should you go all out in an effort to recover curatorial data?
Is a piece-meal effort largely wasted?  How do you keep track of the
extent of curation given to each specimen, so that those specimens
needing further attention can be identified in the future?

> One of those proverbial "cart-before-the-horse" situations; most
> collections need curation *first*, before we start worrying about
> putting everything into databases.

> A lot will depend on whether you might ever need to retrieve that
> material...but in any event, you should get all the data you might
> need entered the FIRST time around. Databases that do not include
> ALL the data, like gender, detailed locality, host, and so forth,
> will have to be completely reworked somewhere down the road, and
> that is also wasteful.

If someone is willing to pay for putting everything into databases,
but the collection is not well curated, what is the best course of
action?  Must you curate it first?  Is it really a waste of effort
to transcribe the data at hand?

Why not let adequate curation wait until someone comes along with a
specific interest in the material (and funding to do extensive work
on it)?  What is the harm of converting old manuscript catalogs into
a computer database?  That would at least put the data now available
at the institution onto a computer where a visitor could potentially
access it in advance of visiting the institution, over the Internet.


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