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Background

UCMP comprises four collections (vertebrates, invertebrates, paleobotany, and microfossils).  When the current UCMP system was developed, there was insufficient time to build a loans module.  The four collections manage their loans as follows:

  • Vertebrate: Pat uses a dBase/DOS database (copy of main DBF files obtained)
  • Invertebrate: Mark has Pat do loans because he has a Macintosh and can not use the dBase files.  Pat processes the invertebrates in the same dBase system, using "I" in the division field.
  • Paleobotany: Diane uses a separate dBase/DOS database which appears to have the same structure as the vertebrate version.  Hoffman visited with Diane and saw the dBase system in action, but we could use a copy of the files in order to determine whether there are any schema differences.
  • Microfossil: Ken gets very few loans.  He uses a Word template to create the loan agreement and maintains the paper copy in files. (Word file obtained.)

The primary dBase files are stored on Pat's and Diane's individual work machines, which are then backed up to a server that is also backed up.

For the curators, the main challenges appear to be around managing complex loans, partial returns, and so on.  Because the legacy systems are Windows-based, Mark can not view them or process invertebrate loans.  Prof. Lindberg expressed concern about two problems. First, four curators are managing loans in four separate ways using different tools, creating a lot of risk for the museum.  Second, the loans are not directly tied to the objects in the collection management system.

Schema and functionality

  • The vertebrate dBase file has about 1,050 invoices/loans and 13,250 associated line items for loaned specimens.
  • The system is focused mostly on outgoing loans.  UCMP does use their system to document the return of specimens loaned to UCMP scientists.  Generally, documentation for "loans in" is considered the responsibility of the loaning institution and is primarily an agreement between the loaning institution and the UCMP scientist.
  • The two main functions are 1) data entry of information about the loan and the loaned specimens and 2) printing of the loan agreement.  The system is also used to search for extant loans and process returns.
  • Core loan information (called the Invoice in the UCMP system) includes the identification of the loanee, the term or due date for the loan (extensions are very common), shipping information, the loan number, the loan type, and confirmation of receipt.
  • Core information about the loaned specimens includes: the specimen number if catalogued, the locality number of the specimen (required, see below), taxonomic identification, description (e.g., if a part of a specimen), permissions and restrictions regarding treatment of the loaned specimen (what can and can not be done), the condition of the object or part, quantity or count, and the return date.
  • Most fields are optional, and data quality will be an issue if migrating data is performed.
  • UCMP tries to loan out catalogued specimens, so nearly all loaned specimens have specimen numbers.  However this is not always feasible.  For the paleobotany collection, the specimen number is optional.  However the locality number is required (see below).
  • While the current practice is to try and loan catalogued specimens, there are several thousand specimens that appear in the loans database that do not appear in the specimen database because some legacy specimen data has not been loaded into the current system.
  • There are other tables that support the system.  For example, loanees are identified in separate institution table.
  • It is very common for loans to be extended.  It is unusual for loanees to request these explicitly, and in fact one of the main challenges is keeping track of which loanees need to be contacted regarding extensions.  It is also common for parts of loans to come back.  Extensions are not well tracked in the systems.
  • UCMP loans parts of specimens, whole specimens, slides, and so on.
  • UCMP is challenged by institutions, loanees, and contact information.  The dBase systems do not track email addresses.  Institutions undergo reorganization.  Loanees move from one institution to another, often taking loans with them.  Loanees sometimes pass away, and their collections (even loans) often transfer to someone else or to the institution.  Collection managers know their communities quite well and have to track this kind of thing.  At the same time, UCMP staff said they do not want to spend all their time managing information about institutions and people.  Pat says that the systems are relying too much on authority tables.  She wants to ask the question, "How many loaned specimens are in New York?" 
  • When specimens are returned, it is common to have new identification information or new derivatives (slides, dissections, and so on).
  • UCMP includes basic taxonomic information about loaned specimens.  Currently, they enter free text (e.g., "hadrosaur").
  • For UCMP, some additional attributes of the loaned specimen are salient:
    • division (vertebrate, invertebrate, microfossil, and paleobotany)
    • locality number (the georeferenced point in space and in geologic time from which a fossil was collected) which is made up of two fields in the database:
      • locality prefix (a one or two character string that identifies a part of the collection)
      • locality number (unique number within the locality prefix set)
  • One UCMP specimen can have many parts, and parts are often loaned separately.  It is not uncommon for one specimen to have parts in several different loan records.
  • Diane emphasized how important it was to maintain a data entry capability.  After entering information about the loaned specimen, she can "carryforward" that information to the next row for the next loaned specimen.  This helps her processing of loan requests.
  • There is a field in the UCMP specimen database that can be used for loans.  Pat (vertebrate collection) uses this for some loans, though she has to enter it separately.  (Copy of specimen records with non-null non-blank loan values obtained.)
  • Some cataloguing is outsourced to University of Washington.  Pat will enter "UW" in the specimen system, partially in order to reserve specimen numbers for UW to use.  75% of the vertebrate collection cataloging is now done offsite.  
  • Specimens are used extensively by researchers in the building and for teaching.  Pat does not record these in the vertebate dBase file, using a "blue card" system instead (whereby a blue card is filled out and put in the specimen drawer).  Diane does enter this information into the paleobotany dBase file.
  • The loan transaction itself is independent of the taxon (which is tied of course to the associated loaned specimen record).  In theory, a single loan transaction could comprise specimens from multiple sections of the museum.
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