Support for Database Maintenance

Penny, Norm npenny at CASMAIL.CALACADEMY.ORG
Mon Nov 27 13:43:07 CST 1995

          The information content of collections is enormous and I
          worry that we may be discouraging the development of means
          for electronic access to that information by current
          discussion of support.  We need to remember just how
          valuable this information is.
               However, we cannot escape the fact that database
          maintenance brings a whole new dimension to collection
          management, and particularly for large collections is very
          expensive.  Most collections are already faced with the
          dilemma that funding is quite limited, and to maintain a
          database will of necessity divert much effort and money away
          from equally valuable specimen preparation, labelling,
          loans, etc.  Both tasks are of great utility to the
          scientific community.  To comment that a collection database
          should not be undertaken unless institutional support is
          available for its indefinite maintenance ignores three
          aspects of this dilemma, 1) no one can predict future
          funding or changing priorities and such changes in
          maintenance can make a database obsolete overnight, 2)
          maintenance costs vary.  If a great deal of new material is
          entering the collection, or scientists are making frequent
          modifications, the maintenance costs can skyrocket, 3) a
          one-point-in-time database has a considerable value in its
          own right.  Perhaps as a compromise the scientific community
          would accept a collection profile at one specific time,
          rather than support the ongoing institutional costs of
               To have highly trained specialists spending their time
          making changes in a computer system, particularly one that
          they are unfamiliar with, is both resky and a poor
          utilization of their time.
               To give an example from Entomology.  Two years ago
          Margaret Thayer and Al Newton visited the California Academy
          of Sciences, and in two weeks sorted 22,500 staphylinid rove
          beetles to subfamily.  Additionally, 20,000 individual
          specimens were sorted to genus in the Aleocharinae.  They
          worked very hard, putting in long hours, and I believe that
          their skills were utilized in the best manner.  If they had
          been compelled to enter the changes in the computer database
          during their stay, only a small fraction of these beetles
          would have been sorted and made available for study.  You
          can also imagine the financial cost of adjusting the
          database, eith by Margaret and Al, or by CAS staff.  And,
          these are just two specialists working over a two week
          period.  If we extrapolate this to all specialists (both on
          site and borrowing material) over a one year period, the
          cost for major collections is enormous.
                Because of institutional budget constraints, any major
          collection is faced with either not doing collection
          databasing, or severely curtailing most other scientific
          support activities.  I still think that the best solution is
          for NSF to support maintenance of databases.
                                                Norman D. Penny
                                                NPenny at

More information about the Taxacom mailing list