Catablogs are a smart application of blogging software for historical societies, libraries, and other organizations that have collections. Here’s a short but comprehensive description from ArchivesNext:
A catablog is a site created with blogging software that provides short descriptions of collections via blog posts. These posts can be easily tagged, categorized and updated, and can contain image and media files.
A catablog does not necessarily replace a collection management system such as PastPerfect or Omeka (though with some customization, it certainly could). We think that, unless you have great web-developing skills or find the perfect plug-in, it is best to think of the catablog system as a way to make your organization’s collections more findable to a wider public. With a catablog, you do not necessarily post every item in your collection; many organizations create posts about a special collection, such as the John Q. Smith Family Papers, as a whole. In the examples we have seen, archivists provide a short description of the collection’s holdings and tag each collection post according to time period, content topics, etc.
Because catablogs are based on blogs, your community can follow your RSS feed to keep up-to-date on new collections as they are added and easily link to collection descriptions to share their finds with others.
There are several other smart descriptions of catablogs out on the web. We recommend reading this post from the Connecticut Humanities Council. The author Gail Wiese includes a bulleted list of advantages of the catablog method and links to several organizations already using catablogs.
This post, from the blog of Family Tree Magazine, reminds us that there is a real hunger among genealogists to know what treasures are hidden away in your archives. Since so many genealogists, especially amateurs, start looking for their ancestors on the web, having a catablog to serve as a digital, searchable, and linkable finding aid will be invaluable for driving both virtual and real visitors to your organization. Savvy societies may also want to publicize their catablog with large genealogy sites like Ancestors.com. Further, showing users how to subscribe to an RSS feed for your catablog should be a standard part your organization’s workshops and newsletters aimed at genealogists.
We can imagine a shared catablog among several small historical societies, historic house museums, or local library special collections that spreads the work among a larger pool of people and links related organizations and their collections by using the same metadata–tags, categories, etc.–to label them. Not only is a labor-saving method, it also will make your content more useful and accessible for users, who won’t need to learn each organization’s idiosyncratic labeling and cataloguing system. As with any digital project, and especially a collaborative digital project, such an initiative should only be launched after careful planning among partner organizations to ensure that everyone follows the same protocol and uses the same metadata to describe their collections and add them to the catablog.
Several large organizations–mostly university libraries–have used WordPress to build a catablog that keeps track of their collections. Though some of these have clearly been customized by professional web developers, we believe there are still useful applications of this idea for someone with only a basic familiarity with blogging software. Check out Drexel University Archives and Special Collection’s catablog; this example seems like the most straightforward example of how to “blog” your collections and categorize each special collection with tags.
There’s even a Catablog plug-in for WordPress!
An ambitious organization, perhaps with the help of an intern or dedicated volunteer, could experiment with the catablog method by catablogging each item in one of your smaller collections. In this case, the archivist could add an image of each object just as easily as one adds an image to a regular blog post! Allowing users to comment on each item post, or using the comments to elicit extra information about items lacking sufficient documentation, could increase community engagement.
Catablogs embody everything we’ve tried to encourage with the Public Humanities Toolbox:
- Use free, widely available blogging software to introduce your organization and your collections to a wider community.
- Use tools that are easy for non-experts to learn how to use.
- Use tools that your community is already familiar with, so there is not a high barrier to adoption.
- Adapt the capabilities of already-available software to meet the needs of small cultural heritage organizations.
- Invest time, rather than money, in digital projects.