When data is catalogued appropriately with relevant, logical fields, tags and metadata, it can be easily found and utilised. Storing records without structured cataloguing could mean that you lose them forever.
Before you start cataloguing a record, make sure it is worth keeping. That is the first step. Do not keep data if it is not going to be useful and be used.
Some records must be kept to comply with legislation, a current retention schedule will ensure your compliance. So there are records you must keep and there are records which you should keep. How do decide which records don’t fit either category? Ask yourself the following:
- Does it have value to the organisation, is it perhaps historically significant?
- Is it unique or at risk?
- What purpose does it serve?
Once assessed and the record is to be kept, cataloguing can proceed.
Most modern databases have the flexibility to determine the fields and metadata which will suit your organisation and its requirements. There is no point in having a database if the data going in does not produce relevant data coming out. It requires careful thought and consultation with key users, as it is an essential task to know who the users are and what they need.
Style Guide / Thesaurus
Cataloguing terms, tags, keywords i.e. metadata should always be consistent, so it is essential to have a thesaurus, ideally online, to make the selection, without consistency, records will be lost in the system. Anyone who does data entry must know where the thesaurus is and how to use it.
If possible, a database should have a facility for auditing records with details to include who entered the record and when. This is not a reason to blame and shame, it is an education tool. If the same error is being made by the same person, they can be trained how to do the data entry properly.
Regular reporting to check the data entered has been done correctly is essential to the validity of the database. Correcting a small number of mistakes is much easier than having to do mass modifications. Regular reports will also ensure the data entered satisfies the organisation’s needs.
Even where data is automatically entered into a database, it is important to do a manual report and check on a regular basis, to ensure the data entered is of a high standard.
The more accurate the cataloguing is, the more valuable the data will be to the organisation, enabling successful decision-making.
It has long been stated that the quality of the data you extract is only as good as the data you enter, or, to put it bluntly–garbage in, garbage out!