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Catalogue the ephemera collection

There are 6 archival boxes of “ephemera”, spineless works as Benjamin Forster has described them, in The Frontyard Library collection. We estimate that there are about 900 items in the boxes. Benjamin has been through all the boxes, but there's no general knowledge or documentation of what these items are. They have not been fully catalogued. The boxes currently live inside Library Vitrine.

On the 27th, September, 2017, a small group at Frontyard kicked off a process to create a catalogue of these ephemera items.

In mid-October 2017 some of the people who gather at Frontyard went on an off-yard excursion to maintain a ‘Frontyard table’ at VOLUME 2017: Another Art Book Fair at Art Space in Wolloomooloo, Sydney.

Benjamin made a book of the photos taken of the items as part of the cataloguing process at the book fair.

Cataloguing sessions

You can do some cataloguing any time, but you can also organise to do it together :) We've had a few group sessions so far and it's been really productive and fun.

Upcoming: no upcoming group sessions currently planned. You can organise one though!



The boxes that the ephemera currently sit in are too heavy to lift and there's no way to know what's inside them, except to take out all the items. This makes this part of the collection totally inaccessible. We think more people should be able to work with this collection, and we think it needs to be physically easier to handle as a starting point.

So we want to reorganise to collection into some kind of storage solution that enables people to open a box knowing that something they're looking for will be inside. We think that before designing and building this solution, we need to know what's in the boxes. We'd like to design a system that responds to the context the collection finds itself in. Our first step to inviting people to contribute to this design is to discover what is in the collection by cataloguing it.

The process

We use a Google Form ( to capture the information we want to note down about each ephemera work to be catalogued. For each work we collect:

  • the number of the box it came out of (1-6);
  • its title;
  • the URL for it in the Australian National Library’s Trove database (we can use this link to pull all kinds of useful information from their records later);
  • a photo of its cover; and,
  • if it isn’t represented in Trove: the author, publisher, year published, and language.

The basic cataloguing process is:

  1. Set up a work space with a bunch of items out of the box that we're currently working through (box 2 as of 2018-03-12), and the transparent plastic 'done' box for items that have been catalogued.
  2. Pick up an item to catalogue.
  3. On your phone, go to the cataloguing form at
  4. Answer the questions on the form for the item, including taking a photo of it's cover.
  5. Once your answer is submitted, put the item in the 'done' box.
  6. Repeat :)

The responses go to a spreadsheet you can work with, and you can also access a data feed of the entries via a public URL, if you open up the share settings (see my example of requesting and parsing that data feed).

This spreadsheet will form the initial version of the catalogue. We'll then pull more information out of the Trove collection where possible and make a master sheet that we can then share and analyse as we design a system to organise the items.

At the book fair was an issue with the uploading stage of the Google Form regularly crashing the browser of the device the cataloguer was using. This was very frustrating as the cover photo capturing was at the end of the form and it would cause the person to loose their work for this item. As the form was quite short, this frustration wasn’t a blocker to people continuing to catalogue works. There may be a need to try a system that is less memory intensive on the devices in the future.

All the cover photos are taking up a lot of space in Google Drive. We've received a notice that we're close to our space allowance.


We need to set up some backup system of our catalogue and the item cover photos. Sending them over to the Internet Archive using something like could be a good solution.