Nature of Work

The Brooklyn Museum houses thousands of ephemeral, mixed material files on artists and institutions. I was working on cataloging the institutional files, of which there are currently about 3,500 records uploaded in the Brookmuse catalog, with probably about another 1,000 more that still need to be. The files contain small exhibition catalogs, clippings, announcements, press releases, and other ephemeral material on an institution, usually a gallery or museum.
Prior to the museum's decision to add these online records, they were virtually hidden. Unless the librarian thought to check for a file for a patron looking for information on an artist or institution, there was no way of knowing they were there. Sometime after this period of inaccessibility, they cataloged the records by the box, so there would be a record, for example, for "Park Slope Artists Center - Portland Art Museum" and then you had to check if what you were looking for was in the box.
Now, the Brooklyn Museum, and their interns, catalog each file individually using MARC and OCLC. For each file I catalog, I create a "Mixed Materials" record in OCLC and then apply a Constant Data stamp. In this case, the constant data provides a template to work with. It tells the viewer the title, Institutional File, as well as the contents of the file:
"The file may include any of the following materials: announcements, clippings, photographs, press releases, brochures, reviews, invitations, small exhibition catalogs, resumés, other ephemeral material."
It also describes time period and provenance:
"Files compiled by BMA library staff from 1917 to the present."
Additionally, it provides all necessary MARC feilds and elements, so that all I have to enter is the Corporate Author (110) and Subject (610). Both of these fields are populated by the name of the institution, as found in Library of Congress Name Authorities. I also scan and attach a barcode to each item, as well as add a filing letter to the call number, which would look like this: IF BMA P. This way the staff knows it is filed with the Institutional Files under the letter P. I make sure to control the headings and validate the record and then it is exported to Worldcat and the Arcade catalog.
It sounds pretty straightforward, and it is for the most part. Of course, over the years, many items have been misfiled, misnamed, misplaced, and so on. There is also the common issue of institutions that change names. There may be 3 or 4 files on one museum, spread out throughout the collection, so this usually involves a lot of searching to make sure you include all the material, and a lot of going back and adding item records for folders previously cataloged.
The final part is adding information to files that have special significance. A Brooklyn gallery gets its own subject heading: Art galleries, Commericial. Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.). A file that has a catalog for an area of art that the Brooklyn Museum collects in, gets put into a database for later review. Any files that contain large exhibtion catalogs, or items of other special significance, get a note: Individual cataloging recommended. After all these extra steps are factored in, each file does end up presenting its own unique set of considerations. For this reason, a file might take 2 minutes to catalog while the next one takes 20 minutes.

Tragedy on the Brooklyn Bridge, Harpers Weekly, 1883
Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum