Cataloging Your Video

Getting Started

Start with an Inventory

Building a catalog can be a labor-intensive process, and cataloging requires at least some training. Start small by creating a simple inventory of your collection. An inventory is a list of your videos with only essential information such as ID, file or folder name, title, storage location(s), and security restrictions. An inventory can provide basic access to your collection until you are able to build a more elaborate catalog, and the data you enter in the inventory can be incorporated into it.

Example from an inventory.
Example from an inventory.

Evaluate Your Collection

Before deciding to build a catalog, evaluate whether you really need something more complex than an inventory (and acquired metadata and documentation) to make your videos findable and understandable. An inventory may be sufficient.

If you do want to make a catalog, consider aspects of your collection that will affect the complexity of the catalog and time required to build it:

Collection size

How many items do you have? What is your rate of acquisition? The catalog you need for 100,000 titles will be different from one for 10,000.

Information needs

How complex is the information you need to capture?

Access needs

How do you or your current or future users need to access information? What are the gaps in your current ability to search, and what functionality does your catalog need to have to address them? What are the critical access points?


Is there restricted data that only some users should be able to see?

Do You Have the Resources?

A catalog is only useful if it is properly maintained. The amount of work required depends on the size of your collection and what you wish to do with it. Evaluate your capacity for building and maintaining a cataloging system:

  • Do you have at least one trained person who can oversee the cataloging?
  • Do you have enough people who can dedicate significant amounts of time to being trained and doing the cataloging?
  • Do you have the technical support to build or customize your cataloging system?
  • Do you have the IT support to maintain a cataloging system?
  • Do you have an ongoing budget to sustain sufficient staff and the cataloging system?

Define Structure, Rules and Access Points

Choose the metadata standard(s) that your catalog will be based on, or create your own (see “Structure and Rules” for more on this). A metadata standard is a set of rules that defines the kinds of information and how it is structured in a catalog. Many metadata standards have been developed by various communities to suit different kinds of materials. Using an existing standard (or combination of standards) saves you the effort of creating rules from scratch, and makes your data more interoperable. To meet the search needs of your users, you can also customize and add additional access points to your catalog.

Develop a Cataloging System

Your catalog must be built on a system that allows you to create, structure, and search records. Typically, catalogs rely on some kind of computer database (see “Tools for Inventories and Catalogs” for more on this). Choose a system that you have the resources to develop and support.

Training and Quality Control

Cataloging is more complex than it may seem at first glance. Describing content – especially human rights content – requires familiarity with the subject matter. Decisions need to be made on what to prioritize or spend time on.

A usable catalog must always adhere to its established structure and rules, otherwise data will not be effectively searchable, and relevant materials cannot be found. Consistency can be difficult to achieve, however, as language is inherently full of ambiguities.

Using volunteers to catalog is a great way to get large volumes of work done, but there should be at least one person with the skill and oversight to train them and ensure quality control. Rules and terminology should be clearly documented. Catalogers can also check each other’s work.

Start with New Videos First

Do not imagine you will have all your videos cataloged once your system is in place. Cataloging takes a lot of time; the world’s biggest archives can take years to catalog a collection. Start with newly acquired videos, and set up a process for cataloging older or existing video as time allows.

  • Cataloging is labor-intensive, and requires training and quality control.
  • Before cataloging, start by making an inventory of your collection.
  • Assess whether you need a catalog, and whether you have the resources to build one.
  • Start cataloging new videos first. Set up a process for cataloging the backlog later.
  • Source metadata, chain of custody, descriptive information, and security restrictions are among the most important metadata to catalog for human rights evidentiary video.
  • Define your metadata structure and rules, and document them in a cataloging manual or data dictionary.
  • Using metadata standards can make your work easier and your catalog more interoperable.
  • You can use a spreadsheet to make a simple catalog, or a database for a more complex catalog.
Key Concept: Interoperability

Using metadata standards ensures that your metadata can be more easily used and understood by others.
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Key Concept: Data Model

A data model defines how metadata is structured and organized in a catalog.
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Key Concept: Controlled Vocabulary

Catalogs use controlled vocabularies to ensure consistency and findability.
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Key Concept: Metadata

Metadata is the basis of cataloging.
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Key Concept: Metadata Standard

Cataloging relies on standardized structures and rules for creating metadata.
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Key Concept: Findability

The primary purpose of cataloging is to enable and improve findability.
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The Archiving Workflow

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