Maintaining databases

Tue Nov 28 11:01:05 CST 1995

Maintaining and updating a well-designed database should not be
particularly labor-intensive.  The complaints about this problem
indicate that either some collections databases are not well
designed, or that people do not know how to use them to full
advantage.  The case under discussion, updating thousands of
identifications to the subfamily or genus level, should be easy
in a well designed system.

First of all, identifications (and identifier and date
identified) should be a one-to-many relationship with specimen
(or lot).  If a specimen is reidentified, one just adds another
identification to the list.  The most recent identification might
be understood to be the correct one, or the identification that
corresponds to the classification used in the collection might be
flagged.  (There are other alternatives if taxonomic authority
files are in use.)  If 1000 specimens are identified as genus A,
that means 1000 records need an identical change.  Given a list
of the catalogue numbers (or other unique ID numbers), it is
possible in most database programs to make the needed changes to
all affected records with a single set of commands.  If the
system at your institution requires that such changes be made one
by one, you need a different system.

I think NSF should support four areas:
1) getting collections started with good database systems,
2) upgrading inefficient database systems,
3) data entry for collections with well designed databases,
4) travel of systematists to other institutions to help with

I do not think NSF should support maintenance of existing
systems, which is an institutional responsibility.

Gary Rosenberg
Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
rosenberg at

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