Waco Gem and Mineral Club, Waco, Tx

15.4 Cataloging Your Collection Electronically


15.4: Cataloging Your Collection Electronically

When I was a kid, I used a composition book to catalog my fossil collection, listing new fossils as I got them, and supplementing that master list with a collection of 4X6 index cards where I scribbled locality info, with data about the formation and the sorts of fossils I had collected. The card system made it easy to find my locality info: it was all stored alphabetically by the name of the locality (most often the name of the closest town, like "Stockton Bryozoan Patch" or "Braidwood Concretions" or "LaSalle Crinoid Quarry"), and new cards could be inserted easily in their alphabetical place. The whole system worked fine while my collection was small and manageable, but the larger it grew, the more difficult it was to leaf back through my master list in that composition notebook, in which fossils were listed as they were acquired rather than by some more logical system, such as class or family of fossil, geological age, locality, etc. Eventually, I found faults in my index card system, as well. For instance, instead of grouping by locality name, would it make more sense to group all the cards together by geological time period in case I wanted to find all the Ordovician localities represented in my collection? So I made divider cards for each major period and then organized localities alphabetically within each period. But then, what if I specifically wanted to find all localities holding a specific type of fossil, like trilobites? How would I easily find those?

The advent of the computer made such questions moot. Collectors (both kids and adults) have access to intuitively easy-to-use database and spreadsheet software programs that often come already loaded on new computers when purchased. You can now set up master fields. For fossils, these might include things such as specimen number, common name, taxonomic information, period and/or formation, and locality. For minerals: specimen number, common name, locality, etc. Once master fields are set up and data for each specimen entered, it‘s easy to reorganize your list and pull up just the things you want, for instance, all my fossil fish from the Eocene Epoch, or all my fossil crinoids regardless of locality or time period, or all my specimens of quartz crystals.

An easier alternative to creating your own database from scratch is purchasing software packages expressly designed to help rockhounds catalog their collections. These often have blank fields that simply need to be filled in, and the program does the rest of the work, even allowing you to print custom labels. Two examples are "TFGCollector" (The Fredrick Group, Inc., P.O. Box 1698, Cumming, GA 30028, phone 866-679-9284) and Steven Ouderkirk‘s free computer application with which you can catalog specimens along with digital photos, info on collecting sites, GPS coordinates, and purchase and insurance values.

For more about cataloging a collection and electronic data keeping, see 5.2: Cataloging and Labeling Your Collection, in the Collecting Badge unit. Work with your kids to come up with the best system for cataloging their collections and encourage those who are technologically proficient to make use of the computer.

Note: Kids can use this activity to satisfy requirements toward earning the Collecting badge simultaneously (Activity 5.2).