Catalog vs curate

Julian Humphries jmh3 at CORNELL.EDU
Wed Sep 13 10:04:32 CDT 1995

At 7:33 PM 9/12/95, Una Smith wrote:
>This may present the curator with an impossible task:  to produce vast
>numbers of new catalog records while simultaneously providing the best
>possible curation of those records.  Funding agencies expect a certain
>level of performance, which I am told they generally evaluate by the
>number of entries added to the on-line catalog.  But rapid production
>of catalog records means transcribing readily available data, whether
>or not it is "well curated".

I believe this is an unfair characterization of "funding" agencies,
which I presume mostly means NSF.  First of all, NSF only is an
administrative agency, its you and me and our peers who determine
(for the most part) what projects get funded.  The measure of
performance for a grant will be determined by what the proposal
set out to do.  If you can convince your peers that curation (in
your sense) is what needs doing first, then you can get funded for
that.  Where performance might become an issue is where all you
are claiming to do (in a proposal) is data capture (cataloging?) but
at a unreasonably slow rate.  As you might expect, reviews and
panelists look askance at such projects.  Projects that combine
curation and cataloging do get funded.

>Transcription from paper to on-line media creates data?  How is that?
>I defined cataloging as the creation of data *records*, which I do not
>think is equivalent to creating data.  Do you have a different idea?
Unless you simply do transciption of label (catalog) data into
a single fielded (e.g. text) database, you are creating data during
the data entry process.  Additional information is added (perhaps
drainage or continent), data are standardized in spelling, time
stamps are added, etc).

>> I have no doubt that Una observed some poorly designed systems, or
>> at least, systems designed to poorly-conceived criteria ...
>I've seen some excellent ones too.  Most are a mixed bag.  That's no
>fault of anyone:  how can we know what features we want until we try
>them out and find out what works and what doesn't?  But I think that
>even a poorly designed system can succeed if it is used well, to make
>the most of its good features and to minimize effort that is not cost-
>effective.  I think it is important to distinguish between what is
>cost-effective and what is constructive effort:  these are different.

Well, there are people who have spent lots of time working on what
works and what doesn't, who have done time and motion studies and
looked at how information science can best be incorporated in museum
data management systems.  Maybe the fruits of this research is not
well enough known, but as in any scientific enterprise, not doing
enough background work can produce sloppy results.

Poorly designed systems can produce far more havoc than you suggest.
Data can get lost, mangled or destroyed in poor systems (and has),
lots of human effort can be wasted.

Julian Humphries                          Email: jmh3 at
The MUSE Project, Cornell University
83 Brown Road, Building 3
Ithaca, NY  14850  USA
Voice: 607-257-8143                       Fax:   607-257-8109

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