Designated Challenge Fund Computer Cataloguing Programme


In 1999 the Museum successfully applied for funding for two projects from the Government's Designated Challenge Fund. The Computer Cataloguing Programme had, as its main object, to complete the computerization of the manual catalogue records for artefacts and historic photographic collections. Now this project has been completed it has substantially improved the service the Museum can offer both internally to its own staff, and externally to visiting scholars and members of the public. The second project was to improve the displays in the Lower Gallery of the Museum.

Details of the DCF cataloguing project
Documentation in the Museum before the DCF cataloguing
project began. This is an example of a page from a Museum
accession book, In this case for objects from the founding


The quality of the documentation relating to the Museum's collections is extremely high. Historically, this rich documentation has been stored in manual files and indexes. In 1985, the Museum installed a computer database, since when all new acquisitions have been entered directly on to computer. More recently the Museum has successfully transferred the existing database into an application called Filemaker Pro on the Apple Macintosh platform.

Records for the pre-1985 acquisitions had gradually been transferred to the database since 1985. The process involved upgrading the data (including updating provenances and developing thesauri and keyword listings) and adding research information provided by the Museum's own staff and students and visiting researchers. The Museum had however, achieved significant advances in computerization of the old documentation as it has been successful in obtaining substantial grants for work on specific parts of the collections (for example, from the Leverhulme Trust - e.g Pitt Rivers founding collection and to Historical change and material culture in Papua New Guinea). Before the start of the project, records for some 73,500 objects and some 40,000 photographic 'objects' have been entered. The standards of computer documentation exceed those of Registration and SPECTRUM.

n this case for objects from the founding collection
This is an example of a card from the card catalogue
index first created in 1940.

Details of the DCF cataloguing project

The central task of the project was to transfer data from manual files and indexes to computer databases, and to research and upgrade data for the purposes of collections management, research and public access. The end product has greatly increased the retrievability of information about the collections and thus increased the Museum's ability to generate publications about the collections and to deal with enquiries about them. The project began in October 1999, and finished at the end of March 2002.

The Project Manager supervised the team of four graduate cataloguers who inputted, researched and enhanced the data. The cataloguers worked on the information obtained in the artefact catalogues and on the historic photographs collections.

During the two and a half years that the project lasted the team transferred all the material in the Museum's accession books from the foundation of the Museum in 1884 to 1985 when the first computerisation of documentation occurred onto the computer databases. This highly successful project could not have happened without the funding from the Designated Challenge Fund from Re:source. The Museum now has a world class documentation system to match its world class collections. You can view the databases by going to

Alison Petch

Information Compiled by the Designated Challange Fund Team

All accessioned objects in the Museum have now been catalogued onto computer by the Designated Challenge Fund Retrospective Cataloguing Team and members of the museum's collections management team, past and present. This has made it much easier to prepare statistics about the objects in the Museum's collection.

Many visitors ask questions about the museum which, until now, the Museum has found difficult to answer. For example, many people believe that Lieutenant-General Pitt Rivers collected all of the objects that they can see on display in the Museum. Of course the Museum has always known that this is not true and that many collectors contributed to the collections but until recently we could not have estimated accurately what percentage of the collections were collected by the General.* We can also work out what percentage of our collections came from different continents or are archaeological or ethnographic. Statistics always need to be set in context. It is helpful if you know something of the Museum's history before looking at these statistics.

Much more detailed statistical work can now be carried out on the database, but the Retrospective Cataloguing Team in late 2001 compiled the following graphs which gives you a flavour of the kind of questions that can now be answered and also tells you a great deal more about the overall nature of the Museum's collections. Please note that the graphs only represent the statistics at a certain moment in time (when the statistics were compiled). Because new objects are constantly being accessioned, there will always be changes and variations in the statistics. Unless a very large collection is accessioned from one location however, it is unlikely that the overall statistical relationships will greatly change. From time to time, museum staff will update these statistics to keep the information on this site as current as possible.

These graphs were compiled by Claire Freeman, Oliver Douglas, Mairi Robertson, Meghan O'Brien, Emma Buchanan, Claire Warrior and Alison Petch. Further information about them can be obtained by email

* As you can see from the graphs, the answer is seven per cent.

The graphs below illustrate the percentages of:

The founding collection of the overall collection
The division of the collections between archaeology and ethnography
The division of the of the founding collection between archaeology and ethnography
Collections by continent
Archaeology collections by continent
Ethnography collections by continent
Methods of acquisition
Acquisitions by decade
Major donors
Types of objects
Unlikely objects