Outline of the Categories of Information
Building a Common Framework for Catalogue Entries
Implementing a Common Framework
Organization of the Guidelines
Subjects/Built Works
People/Corporate Bodies
Geographic Locations
Bibliographic Sources
Group Entries
Volume (Sketchbook) Entry
Item Entries
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A Guide to the Description of Architectural Drawings


Group/Item Identification
Document Classification
Related People/Corporate Bodies
Method of Representation/Point of View
Physical Characteristics
Date of Execution
Descriptive Note
Related Groups/Items
Bibliographic References
Exhibition History
Internal Documentation

This area covers categories of information intrinsic to architectural documents such as their physical characteristics, their origin, and their purpose. Its definition reflects the fact that a catalogue entry normally corresponds to a physical group or item in its current state.

Levels of Cataloguing

The Guide defines three levels of cataloging, which may be characterized briefly as follows: [1]

  • Group: An aggregate of items that share a common history. Groups range in scope from the several thousand items that may represent the archives of an architect or agency, to a handful of surviving drawings for a single design.

  • Volume: Any bound volume (e.g., album or sketchbook) containing pages or folios.
  • Item: A sheet or support, including any attached overlays. Objects such as three-dimensional models, coins, etc. may also be considered items.

A fuller discussion of these levels and their characteristics appears in Document Classification.

The first step in cataloguing is to determine which of these levels is appropriate, a decision that may be based on several factors. In general, documents that exist alone or have individual significance should be described at the item level. Documents that were compiled consciously in a volume may be described collectively as a volume. Documents that were made or received and retained as a group because of common purpose or origin and that can be described meaningfully in the aggregate may be catalogued at the group level. Choice of level may also be influenced by the resources and priorities of the institution and a projection of research needs.

Traditionally museums have collected individual architectural documents with artistic significance and thus have stressed the unique aspects of items. On the other hand, archives, which typically acquire documents in natural, organic groupings, often (although not always) describe at the group level. Whatever the approach to cataloguing, it is important to recognize the value of both traditions: to capture both the qualities of the individual object and the aggregate histories of bodies of architectural documents.

Records may be made at more than one level: a general record for a group and specific records for volumes or items within it, or a general record for a sketchbook with separate descriptions for each page or folio. The relationship between the part described and the whole to which it belongs must always be expressed.

Uniform Record Format for All Levels of Cataloguing
There may seem to be a justification for treating groups, volumes, and items differently, since some concepts seem specific to certain levels, such as administrative origin for groups, compiler for volumes (albums), and maker for single items.[2] This approach, however, requires relating three different types of record formats to one another and thus leads to a highly complex data structure, with identical information being put in different data fields, depending on the level. This is not only confusing to cataloguers, but presents retrieval difficulties as well. Thus the Guide recommends the same data structure for all levels of description.

Retrieval Considerations Particular to Group-level Cataloguing
The relationships of individual volumes and items to groups have implications for retrieval. The most basic way of allowing for retrieval by group attributes is to include the most salient information about a group in the entries made for each item that forms a part of it. This is, however, a very labor-intensive way of proceeding, because individual pieces of information common to all members of the group must be duplicated in the respective entries. In the case of archival records, repositories may make group descriptions at more than one level: for example, an entry for an entire record group (representing a number of different series deriving from a single originator), an entry for each series within that record group, and an entry for every project file within each series. These descending levels of entry may, depending on the data structure employed, contain either duplicate information from the larger group record (the "parent''), or a cross-reference to it.

Another consideration for retrieval is that a group-level entry describes the material collectively and thus will consist of a general analysis of the qualities and characteristics of the group as a whole. In contrast, a catalogue entry for a single item can analyze it specifically and may, in theory, describe virtually every aspect of it. Of course, because of practical limitations this is never actually done, but because there is a one-to-one relationship between the entry and the item, enumeration of a limited, specific set of characteristics is the model of single-item cataloguing.

In contrast, group cataloguing entries focus on describing coherent, collective bodies of documents that may consist of many items. The description thus emphasizes the characteristics of the group as a whole instead of the distinctive qualities of each item. The group description also may highlight unique, distinctive, or important objects or characteristics that either are or are not present in the group as a whole. Likewise, characteristics included in the group as a whole may or may not be found in a specific item. In an item entry, if the field for Subject/Built Work Type (by function/form) says lighthouse, it means that such a building is depicted (or thought to be depicted) on the item. If the same happens in a group entry, however, it may or may not mean that all the items in the group have lighthouses as subjects. Most likely only some of the items do, but the cataloguer has decided that the theme is prominent enough to be mentioned.

Group-level description summarizes the qualities and characteristics of the whole; however, this fact may not be apparent to users. A researcher may read an entry and, not finding what he or she is looking for, miss relevant material. A careful analytical description of a group, if thoughtfully considered, may reduce this possibility. It is for this reason that group-level cataloguing is most suitable to homogeneous groups of materials.

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