What is it? PastPerfect is a cataloging program designed for use in the museum world. According to the company “PastPerfect was designed for the quick and easy entry of your catalog records, with four separate catalog screens designed specifically for objects, photographs, archives, and library collections.”
Classification System • PastPerfect allows museums to organize their object into four catalogues. The fours sub-categories are: • Photographs – This section has specialized entry fields for photographs ( photographer, studio, film size, print size) • Archives – This section has specialized entry fields for documents, oral histories, manuscripts, maps, etc. (dates of accumulation, system of arrangement) • Library – This section is specialized for published materials such as books or magazines (call number, ISBN, publisher) • Objects – This section allows for specialized fields for artifacts (Object ID, place of origin, appraisal history) • Items can be further classified and organized by field within any given catalogue.
Who is supposed to use it? It has been designed for use by general museum staff, making the assumption that not all those who will be cataloging will be trained in advanced cataloging. When did PastPerfect come into existence? Users of the completed records may include museum staff, researchers, and visitors. How easily a search may be performed by the most basic user is determined by the lexicon used by those cataloging the records (i.e. it can be as user friendly as the cataloguers choose for it to be)
Authority Files Latest version of PastPerfect (V) bases its lexicon on the “Nomenclature 3.0 for Museum Cataloging” Museum personnel entering files can access this built in list PastPerfect is a flexible program, and as such allows for changed within its built in lexicon. This allows museums to adjust the program to contain terms that are better suited to its purposes. This can be a sort of catch 22 for program users though. All cataloguers must stick with terms from the set authority files when cataloging the object. If this is not done then users will have a difficult time finding what they are searching for. Ideally only trained personnel should be performing the cataloging to avoid conflicting search terms. However, this is not always the case.
Search Capacity Queries may be focused within a specific field (i.e. photograph, object, library, archive) Queries may also be done through the searching of keywords that are entered in connection to any given item in the collection at the time it’s file was created. Queries may also be performed based on the date of entry into the system, the cataloger did the entry, accession number. Lists of frequently searched terms can also be created.
Features Automatic backup reminder once a week. The exhibit feature allows museum personnel to log important exhibit data (such as exhibit name, location, duration, staff required, climate control, and visitor traffic). Individual items included in the exhibit may be tagged within the catalogue. The program then maintains a log of past exhibits as well as a history of individual object exhibitions. Museums may display their collections online for an added fee.
Features PastPerfect further allows museum personnel to keep track of their collections through specially designed record templates for in-coming and out-going loans. The program also allows for deaccessioned items with a deaccession catalogue that includes a field in which one can explain the reason for the deaccession, disposal information, and staff authorization; while maintaining much of the information from the original file.
Training The training for PastPerfect is designed to teach people who have never catalogued before how to use their system. The program comes with a detailed guidebook which provides step-by-step instructions. Online training is available along with online support For an additional fee museums can access PastPerfect’s phone support for more personalized assistance.
System Weaknesses The flexible authority files can be a blessing and a curse. When multiple cataloguers are entering data, especially if some of the catalogers have no previous experience or understanding of how cataloging works, too many terms can be entered and consistency does not exist. The training explains in only the briefest of sentences why uniformity throughout the catalogue is important. Many of the features that allow for easier access and ease of use cost extra money that not all institutions can afford.