Documenting Your Collections
Info-Muse Network Documentation Guide

Les guides électroniques de la SMQ

How to use the classification system

The common denominator for material culture objects is that they were originally manufactured for a specific purpose. The use of the classification system is based on the principle of the initial function of the object. Despite this very simple rule, you may have questions regarding special cases when using the system. This section of the guide offers some suggestions and recommendations regarding the most frequently asked questions.

A highly specialized collection mandate may require more-detailed categories and sub-categories than the general classification suggested here. A toy museum, for example, may not find it appropriate to organize its entire collection using the limited number of sub-categories in Category 9, "Recreational Artifacts." An institution in this situation sometimes develops its own classification system, better suited to the categories in its own collection. In that case, it is recommended that the general Info-Muse classification system be used in the Object Category and Object Sub-category fields, so that information can be exchanged through the common Info-Muse database and that the "in-house" classification system be used for other fields of the local database that are not transferred to the common database.

The accepted scientific approach in a given discipline may require a classification structure based on criteria other than the original function of the object. For instance, the organization and study of prehistorical (or paleohistorical) archaeological collections are based mainly on typological or morphological criteria. Accordingly, it is possible to use a different classification system, one that conforms better to the practices in the discipline. If so, this information should be kept in the fields of the local database that are not exported to the common Info-Muse database. Some institutions nonetheless elect to use the Info-Muse classification system, developed initially for history collections; they prefer to use a classification system that requires compromises rather than leave part of their collections unclassified. In such cases, the best approach is to consult the Info-Muse Network team members, who can advise you on using the classification system in keeping with the specific contents of the collections to be documented.

Other questions may also arise with respect to the use of the classification system. For example, an object may have been altered and used for purposes other than originally intended. It may also be difficult to identify an object, to determine its specific function or to choose the most appropriate classification. In the following section we have presented recommendations accompanied by examples for certain specific cases. But if you have difficulty classifying an object, it is best to ask yourself the following questions:

  • For what specific purpose was the object created?
  • What is its place in the collection?
  • What search key should lead to this object, for users of the database?

It is also important to emphasize that the Info-Muse classification system lets you enter up to two categories and sub-categories for a given object. This flexibility can offer a solution to classification problems by increasing the number of access points to the information in question.

Finally, it is essential to take careful note of the decisions made, so that all your collections will be documented consistently. For more information on the Info-Muse Network classification systems, see documentation tip No. 3 (in French only). © Société des musées du Québec