Cataloging Your Video

Structure and Rules

Cataloging is all about structure and rules.

Metadata Structure

To begin, every catalog must have a structure, or data model, that defines entities and the relationship between different entities. An entity is a “thing” about which data is collected, such as a video, a person, or an event. In a relational database, an entity is the equivalent of a table.

An entity is any “thing” that is being described.
An entity is any “thing” that is being described.

In its simplest form, a catalog may only have one entity. In an inventory, for example, the entity or “thing being described” might be the video file. Each record in the inventory spreadsheet represents one video file, and all of the data in the spreadsheet describe those files.

A more complicated catalog can describe more than one “thing” and involve multiple entities. This can be done with related tables in a database. For example, imagine you have copies of every video in your collection in 3 different file formats. If you made an inventory record for each of the three copies, the same descriptive information would be repeated in each one; only the technical information about the file formats would change. By creating a separate entity for “video content” to hold the descriptive information, you would only need to describe the video content once, then relate it each of the three records with the technical file information.

A catalog can have multiple entities that relate to each other.
A catalog can have multiple entities that relate to each other.

Metadata Rules

In a catalog, all of the records within a particular entity must contain the same set of fields, and data must be entered in those fields consistently. For example, if you search a “Subject” field for “Protests” but a cataloger sometimes uses the term “Demonstrations” instead, you will not find all the videos you are looking for.

For each field in your catalog, define rules for what information gets entered and how. For example, if you have a field for “Date Recorded” you must define what you mean by “Date Recorded” and what format you want the date entered in (e.g. yyyy-mm-dd). You can make data entry in particular fields mandatory or optional.

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HURIDOCS provides 48 different micro-thesauri, or lists of terminology, relevant to human rights documentation that can be used to create controlled vocabularies.

Document Your Rules

Document your structure and rules and a cataloging manual or “data dictionary” so that all catalogers understand the structure and follow the same rules when entering data. To ensure text is entered into fields consistently, create controlled vocabularies, or lists of allowable terms with preferred spelling. If possible, use built-in tools in your cataloging software— such as drop-down lists or dialog box warnings– to enforce rules.


Tema Tres is a content management system for controlled vocabularies.

Metadata Standards

A metadata standard is a set of structure and rules for describing all kinds of materials.  You do not have to adhere to a standard, but there are two obvious benefits to doing so. One is to save yourself from having to develop your own structure and rules from scratch; the other is to make your data more interoperable –easier to share with others or export to other systems. You can use different metadata standards in combination and add custom structural components and fields to meet your needs.

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PBCore is a metadata standard for audiovisual materials developed by the public broadcasting community in the US.

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DublinCore Metadata Element Set is a widely used, simple set of fifteen elements for describing any kind of digital resource.

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General International Standard Archival Description (ISAD(G)) is a standard for describing digital and non-digital archival collections.

  • 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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