Maintaining databases

Tue Nov 28 16:03:58 CST 1995

The situation that Doug Yanega postulates as difficult is exactly the
situation I am referring to as easy.  Create a file that lists the ID
numbers of specimens that have had the identification changed, in this case
refined from Tribe Z to Genus A, B, or C.  Proof-read the list.  Next,
write a macro or a query that makes the same change on each record.

In Paradox (which I am most familiar with) this can be done via the query
function, because variables can be assigned in the queries.  The query
would link two files:

Change File                Identification File

ID no.  ID                 ID no.    ID         Identifier    Date
---------------            ----------------------------------------------
10287   Genus A            00001     Aus bus    Darwin, C.    -- Nov 1845
13478   Genus A            00002     Cus dus    Smith, J.M.   12 Feb 1937
18976   Genus A            etc.
10987   Genus B            10287     Family Q   Unknown       -- --- ----
34789   Genus B            10287     Tribe Z    Jones, J.P.   23 FEB 1985
etc.                       etc.

In query mode, the insert command will automatically add the
identifications for every specimen to the Identification File.

Change File                Identification File

ID no.  ID                 ID no.   ID          Identifier    Date
-------------              ----------------------------------------------
varA    varB       insert  varA     varB        Yanega, D.    28 Nov 1995

One can specify that the operation is done only on items previously
identified as Tribe Z, as a safeguard against typos in ID numbers.  Similar
capabilities are available in many off-the-shelf database programs.  It
might not be trivial to type in the numbers, but it should take less time
to modify the database than it took to sort the specimens.

By the way, I recall reading on Taxacom about a tagging device that could
broadcast its ID number, allowing one to input the numbers of hundreds of
specimens simultaneously.  It might be that as such devices are refined
they will save enough labor to justify their cost.  Certainly database
technology is advanced enough now to allow great increases in efficiency
for museum collections, and other technologies will also help.

Gary Rosenberg
Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
rosenberg at

>I would *should*. Standard practice, though, is that *every*
>specimen gets a unique identifier, which poses a problem when the material
>is sorted above the level of species. Yes, if it were a matter of species
>X being moved into a different genus, then one simple command should be
>all that is needed, but when you start out with 10,000 inventoried but
>unsorted specimens of tribe Z which later are IDed as genera A, B, and C,
>there is no one global command that can be issued to make the appropriate

>>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.

>This is only simple and easy if those 1000 specimens happen, by some
>miracle, to have their numbers *in sequence*. Otherwise, someone will have
>to sit down, and *make* that list of 1000 numbers, then type the commands
>(a process that can, incidentally, be just as fast as trying to scan
>barcodes, so there isn't necessarily much time-saving in having barcodes,
>either) - it's no longer a trivial enterprise at that point. I can't think
>of any systems that can avoid this problem...if there is no shared
>of those 1000 specimens *already* in the database which distinguishes them
>from all other specimens, then there is no simple command which can make a
>global change on those records by themselves.

More information about the Taxacom mailing list