Information Management Part I: The Catalogue

I have something in the order of 13,000 individual pages in the sources listed in my catalogue for this project. Dealing with the sheer volume of stuff that I’ve gathered remains one of the big challenges of the work. Making interesting discoveries won’t do much good if I then forget where the discoveries came from, how I made them and where they fit into the story when it eventually comes time to write my planned book. There are two keys to my information management system: the catalogue, for knowing which source information comes from, and the database, for knowing what information is in those sources. This post will look at how I catalogue my sources.

If you’ve been reading this blog closely over the last few years, you may have noticed the occasional strange group of letters and numbers popping up in the posts themselves. The codes are in fact references to my catalogue of sources, and are the way I keep track of where my information comes from. The codes look like this, for example, from my ‘Accidents’ post of September 2010:

The second engine faltered shortly after crossing into England so they sought out an emergency aerodrome and, in Phil’s memorable understatement… (B03-001-016)

“…we crash landed rather unsuccessfully…”

Or these two, in ‘Motivations’ (November 2012):

Bill Brill was ‘getting a little accustomed to being scared’ (C07-036-159). And there is no doubt that airmen knew very well exactly how low their chances of surviving a tour were. Gil Pate wrote to his mother in November 1943 (A01-409-001): “It seems an age since I last saw you all + I guess I’ll need a lot of luck to do so again, the way things happen.”

The catalogue was one of the first things I set up when I got seriously stuck into this work in about mid 2008 and though it’s not an incredibly sophisticated system it is quite effective in keeping track of all the sources I’ve gathered over the last few years. It lives on a (well backed-up) multiple-tabbed Excel spreadsheet that I continually add to whenever I obtain a new source. Broadly, the code is split into four groups:

Designator-Series-Item Number-Page Number

The Designator tells me what type of source I’m looking at. It is the first letter in the group, and translates as follows:

A: Original (ie Primary) Documents, Scans or Copies – a document that originated during the war or the immediate period thereafter

B: Transcripts of original documents (used when I have not seen the original – ie someone else has transcribed it)

C: Post-war (ie Secondary) material

The types are broadly defined and can sometimes be a little ambiguous – at this stage it is not critical to define each type precisely. A general idea is sufficient.

The Series indicator defines the broad category under which the source fits. It decodes like this:

01: Letters and Telegrams (including letters I’ve personally sent and received)

02: Flying Logbooks

03: Diaries and Operational Record Books

04: Official Documents and Service Records – typically these documents come from archival collections such as the National Archives of Australia [www.naa.gov.au]

05: Photographs

06: Articles, Newspaper Clippings and Media Reports – including magazines

07: Books, Memoirs and Video

08: Databases

09: [Currently spare]

The Item Number is simply an increasing three-digit number for each individual document in each series (disregarding the designator), allocated in order of cataloguing. I haven’t yet reached greater than 999 items in any category, but if I do I’ll simply transition to a four-digit number for subsequent items.

The three-digit Page Number is the page of the document on which the actual quote or information can be found. Obviously for single-page documents or photos this would remain 001. If it’s a really long book with more than 999 pages, there is nothing stopping me using a four-digit page number.

So putting it all together, using as the first example the reference from my ‘Accidents’ post quoted above:

B03-001-006

This refers to a transcript (B) of a diary (03), which was the first diary I catalogued (001). The quote can be found on page 6 (006).

I then take those details over to my Excel spread sheet, where I find…catalogue

Which tells me that it’s a quote from Phil Smith’s diary. I originally got the document from Mollie Smith, and my copy of it resides in my filing cabinet in the folder ‘Smith, Phil’.

The quote from Bill Brill, in my second example above, has the catalogue number C07-063-159. So it comes from page 159 of the 36th book I catalogued, and the book was written post-war. Referring to my handy spreadsheet, I can see its source is Hank Nelson’s book Chased by the Sun, and that there’s a copy of it on my shelf should I feel the need to check the quote.

I’ve used this cataloguing system throughout this blog mainly for my own benefit, so that when I start writing the book I keep telling myself I want to write I can easily find where I found all of my information when I was writing the blog. Obviously the final book will be properly referenced rather than being interrupted by my own strange system of code groups of letters and numbers – but behind the scenes, when I’m doing the research and the actual writing of the story, it’s a quick and easy short-hand method of accurately keeping track of exactly where my information comes from and ensuring that I can easily check my sources for accuracy where required.

I have also incorporated the referencing numbers into the second part of my information management system – the database. Conveniently, that will be the subject of my next post.

© 2013 Adam Purcell

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