How to Catalogue a Personal Collection (Part 1)

In my previous post about the NG Collection, I explained how I started to catalogue my specimens. The first and most important question I had to ask myself was “how am I going to record the details?” I created an Excel spreadsheet last May and at first, it consisted of a few basic columns (accession number, description, origin, etc.).

After tweeting about my progress, I received a suggestion about a free museum database software called Adlib Museum Lite. I considered trying it out but you have to provide your personal details before you can download it, so I decided against it. After searching for other free database systems, I came across Museum Archive. I gave it a try but I felt that a spreadsheet was more suited to my needs. It’s more flexible, easier to change fields and there are no compatibility issues so it can be accessed on virtually any computer.


A zoomed out view of my spreadsheet – so many columns!



Almandine garnet crystals

Here is a formatted version of the entry for the above crystals:

Accession Number C0093
Status Accessioned
Specimen Type Mineral
Brief Description Almandine garnet
Full Description <1cm almandine crystals, deep red in colour. Some are euhedral (perfect dodecahedrons) and two have remnants of the dacite groundmass
Quantity 21
Age (Ma) 6.33
Label? N/A
Location El Hoyazo (or Joyazo) Garnet Volcano, Nijar, Almería, Andalusia, Spain
Origin Notes Collected from the ground
Collector Nadine Gabriel
From Fieldtrip? GEOL3040: Crustal Dynamics, Mountain Building and Basin Evolution, 2016-04-03 to 2016-04-15
Associated Notebook? Notebook 5, pages 54-58, locality 15, sample 6
Acquisition Method Collected
Acquisition Date 2016-04-07
Acquisition Price N/A
Further Acquisition Details N/A
Specimen Pictures [hyperlink]
Associated Pictures [hyperlink]
Associated Documents [hyperlink]
Associated Specimen N/A
Box Number Box 7
Storage Location Spareroom
Accession Date 2016-07-24
Notes N/A
  • An accession number is the most important piece of information in museum documentation. It’s a unique number which connects an object with information on a database. Furthermore, an accession number eliminates the need to attach a large label to an object with paragraphs of information.
  • If a specimen is currently in my collection, it is recorded as being accessioned in the status field. However, I have given some of my specimens as gifts so their status is recorded as ‘donated’. This is also where I will make a note if a specimen is missing – hopefully that’s something I will never have to do!
  • Origin notes is where I record whether a specimen was collected from an outcrop (in situ) or if it was just a fragment found on the ground. During fieldwork, my lecturers always stress the importance of using samples that are in situ because you don’t know the exact origin of ‘a random rock lying on the ground’.
  • Pictures and associated documents (reports, fieldguides, etc.) are added to the spreadsheet via hyperlinks. Images of outcrops or maps of the area are added under associated pictures.
  • The accession date is when I created an entry for a specimen. This is a handy bit of information because it acts like a timeline of my documentation process.
  • It’s better to record dates in the ‘year-month-day’ format because this allows you to sort entries by date. This is known as the international date format.


index cards

Index card folder

My spreadsheet, pictures and associated documents are stored in a folder so the whole ‘database’ can be copied onto a USB stick and then accessed on other computers. Since I have so many pictures and documents, this folder is currently just over 1GB! I’m planning on recording my specimens on index cards since it’s always a good idea to have a paper-based backup.



At the moment, I’ve finished cataloguing my collected specimens (all 270 of them). In the next post, I will describe the system I have used for accession numbers.


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