Vinyl Record Catalog Cards with archivist Amanda McCabe
Posted on October 13 2022
Our newest product, Catalog Cards are launching next week! In honor of our upcoming launch, I interviewed collaborator Amanda McCabe over email about her invaluable contribution to the development of our new vinyl record catalog card notepads.
Over a few phone calls and plenty of emails, leaning heavily on Amanda's professional experience and research, we developed a double-sided card with 20+ fields for essential album information, as well as space to capture your thoughts and experience with the record you love. From sound quality, to standout tracks, to the specific release details that are important to you, this is an archival-quality card that can be stored with your favorite records to preserve the music and experiences that are meaningful to you.
Amanda's wise and thoughtful guidance throughout this project has a delight, her values and perspective have been so aligned with mine- and her enthusiasm for her work is catching! Amanda was also kind enough to share her top 6 tips for taking care of your record collection! Read on for the interview below!
What do you do?
I'm a certified recorded sound archivist. My professional mission is to focus on how we innovate and advocate for our collective history of recorded sound and the musicians that create them. To that end, I find myself in different roles that aren't solely "archivist" roles. I work at Universal Music Group on a new products team focused on the deep catalog. I'm also on the board of Women In Vinyl, a fabulous non-profit - Womeninvinyl.com! And… I spend too much money on records.
How do you organize your record collection?
I organize each format alphabetically by the artist/stage name/group name, with the releases shelved in order of year of release (multiple editions of the same album grouped together). There are some finer details in the underlying logic for how I arrange things, but ultimately it's pretty simple. I have a separate section for Jazz and a few specific small collections, but everything else is together.
I do it this way because it's how my brain works and when I'm looking for something, this is what makes sense to me. My philosophy is that it all comes down to findability. There is an underlying logic to it all, but it all comes down to one question. "Where do I think to look for a record when I wanna hear it?" That's where it needs to be on the shelf. It's there to be found by me; it's my collection. When friends ask me what they "should do," that's what I ask them.
Why did you want to collaborate on the Catalog Cards project?
I was thrilled to work on this project with you for several reasons. First of all, I LOVE your company! I think your products are beautifully crafted and thoughtfully designed. This collaboration allowed me time to connect with you and spend time discussing the very personal nature of collecting. What's not to love?!
As an archivist, you think about the collector a lot. You muse upon the "why" someone kept something. "How does this thing fit into the story of this person?" It is important to nurture this personal relationship in our record collections and bring it front and center. It's easy to get caught up in consumerism instead of staying grounded in the love of each item in our collection. These cards provide an opportunity to reflect on why we keep something.
On a functional level, I've absorbed collections from friends several times over the years. I've also assisted a friend with considerable effort to manage an extensive collection after another friend passed away. There's a lot of lost history regarding each object, both physically and emotionally, as a collection changes hands. I love that these cards help bridge that gap.
Why do you think it is important for collectors to catalog their collections?
So So So many reasons! I could go on for a very long time about this question. But I'll try to be brief. It all boils down to the functional and human aspects of collecting.
One side is entirely functional, not to be crass, but having a catalog of your collection is essential for insurance purposes. Also, it helps the people who have to deal with your stuff if something happens to you. Not to be morbid, but it is vital to consider. It is incumbent upon a collector to consider and advocate for the care of their collection after they are gone. Be a responsible collector, and keep up-to-date with your will and insurance documents (including log-in info if you have a digital catalog). Also, on a practical level, you need to know what you have so you don't accidentally keep buying the same one repeatedly. (Don't lie; we've all done it.)
Conversely, on the other side of the cataloging question is the human factor or the context for why you have this thing. For example, these catalog cards capture pieces of your personal relationship to this album. While the physical details still appear on the cards, the personal reflections and provenance shine with significant importance. The WHY you keep and love something as part of your collection. It translates what is at first glance just visible wear on the sleeve from a rating of "Good" to something seen as "Much Loved." This type of cataloging shares unseen knowledge. For instance, I listen to this record with a drink every St. Patrick's Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas in tribute to my oldest and dearest friends. Or that I bought this on my first date with my significant other. It's the context and history that elevates and defines the value of an object.
Any quick tips for taking good care of your collection?
My top 6 quick tips for taking care of your collection are:
- First of all... Stop blowing on them! You deposit microscopic food and gross stuff from your mouth in the grooves. Use a brush.
- Vinyl has an innate static charge; use an anti-static brush to remove dust on your records and your needle.
- Be aware of potential residue build-up from any "cleaning" substances you use, and proceed with care/caution. If you must rinse a record, use distilled water, not tap water.
- My professor in grad school always said the best way to clean your record is to play it! (Unless there is something big stuck on there affecting playback). So crank up the jams and play your records!
- Always store your records in poly outer sleeves, and don't store them stacked! Keep them up on their spine. Remove/replace or isolate brittle, discolored inner sleeves or inserts found in older albums. The acidic paper can contaminate the surrounding items. I use poly-lined inner sleeves.
- Catalog your collection! If it's an extensive collection, outline a plan and a person to manage it when you are gone. None of us is going to be around forever.
Any question you wish I'd asked about archiving/collecting/records but didn't?
No questions, but I do have one thing I always like to add to a discussion about record collecting. We collect records because we love them. It's easy to get caught up in the "thrill of the hunt" and end up with stuff we don't need or want. Someone else might be dying for that album you have had for five years and never played. I urge you to feel good about letting go of it and passing it on to someone else. Archives must let go of items that don't serve a collection, and you should feel good about doing the same thing. Cataloging, organizing, cleaning, and caring for your record collection are all very important to ensure you can enjoy it for as long as possible. Don't forget to enjoy the process and, most of all, ENJOY the music.