I have just completed enhancing the digital catalogue records for the approximately 4500 objects in the MERL collections which were originally classified as ‘craft’ (see previous post). Some of these had been enhanced during previous cataloguing projects, while others were essentially empty records. I started with the 1300 untouched records, and then went back to edit the others. Each record has now been enhanced with information about provenance, use and historical context. In some cases, further enhancements incorporating more specialist information, such as details to do with materials and techniques, have also been added. The crafts at MERL are divided into seven materials-based categories – clay, leather, metal, straw, stone, textiles and wood – so I worked through the records material by material to enable me to cross reference them, to rationalise object names and descriptions, and to generally bring all the records into line with one another.
I have also systematically keyworded all of the records to make them more easily searchable on MERL’s online catalogue. This element has tied in with the work I’ve been doing on another project at MERL, Countryside21, which has involved updating the MERL Classification and developing a structured keywording system based on it. Each craft record now has a top level process-driven and materials-based keyword – CRAFTS : clay-working, CRAFTS : leather-working, CRAFTS : metal-working, CRAFT S: stone-working, CRAFTS : straw-working, CRAFTS : textile-working, CRAFTS : wood-working. The generic keyword CRAFT S has been given if the material is not known, is not listed, or crosses many materials. Further and more specific keywords have then been added to help narrow down the searching, based on craft disciplines which are well-defined or of which we have significant numbers of objects, e.g. brick and tile making, saddlery, tinsmithing, stonemasonry, rope making, rug making, basketry etc. Take a look at the project page for a full listing of craft keywords.
During the cataloguing, I’ve come across large craft collections which I had no idea we had (such as the Hemeon Collection of rug-making tools and samples), collections which have enthralled me (my love of our basketry collections is well known), and collections which have left me asking ‘why?’ (such as the Alec Coker Collection of corn dollies).
It’s enormously satisfying to have completed this work, and I know that it will be an incredibly useful resource – especially to craftspeople. It will also be beneficial to future projects at MERL, as the importance of knowing what you have and what you know about it (all of which can now be easily found) cannot be understated. However, I’d also like to think that the craft cataloguing isn’t over – it would be great if craftspeople, when looking at our catalogue, could let us know if we’ve made mistakes or if they have further information to add (email email@example.com). Furthermore, I really hope that engagement with craftspeople in terms of building connections, opening dialogue and raising awareness of our collections, which formed the second aspect of the craft strand of Reading Connections will become an ongoing activity at MERL.
Greta Bertram, Reading Connections Project Officer