by Richard Bryant
Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum works hard to keep meticulous records of all the plants in its possession. These records are compiled in a database which currently exists in Microsoft Access. I was recently tasked with finding a way to migrate our database from Access to a new piece of museum software called KE EMu, or KE Electronic Museum. This software would allow us to keep a more detailed catalog of our plants, forcing us to maintain records that are organized and up to date.
I knew immediately that this would be an incredibly daunting task. My first thought was, “Do I really have to copy every single one of our 17,000+ object records and paste them somewhere into KE EMu?” Thankfully, this was not the case; as it turns out U-M’s IT staff could program this kind of heavy lifting.
To migrate a database, there needs first to be a consensus of what information is worth tracking and what is not. A detailed design plan must then be drawn up. Thousands of records---some of which are incomplete or complex and can cause technical glitches---must then be copied and moved. Coming up with the design plan, then, was my job.
I opened KE EMu in an attempt to acquaint myself with its inner workings. I only became more confused. I couldn't figure out how to use the software, and it seemed clunky and disorganized. Matthaei-Nichols’ IT and curation departments were somewhat confused by the software as well. I wondered, if this software is so confusing to all of us, is migrating our database to it really a good idea?
I decided to give it a chance. I scheduled a meeting with Beverly Walters, Research Museum Collection Manager at the University of Michigan Herbarium. They’d already made considerable progress migrating their database into KE EMu and knew that they were ahead of us here.
Meeting with Beverly and a U-M School of Information intern helped answer a lot of questions. They gave me a rough idea of how to use and customize the software, and they briefly walked me through the plan for their own database migration. After the meeting I realized that our own migration process would be simpler than I’d originally thought—I could follow the Herbarium’s plan as a model. I came up with a rough game plan and then scheduled another meeting, this time with John Torgersen, U-M Database Administrator Intermediate, who oversees the KE EMu project as a whole. After discussing our plan for migration with John he approved of my ideas, adding that the Arb and Gardens has a far less complicated database than the Herbarium’s. I then drew up a design plan for the migration and sent it to the university’s technology staff. Our migration is nowhere near complete, but my role in the project is over for the time being. Creating the design plan was my responsibility. Initiating the migration process is a task for U-M’s IT staff.
This project was very interesting to me personally. As an intern I was fortunate to be given the authority to act independently. Creating a preliminary design plan for this migration process was a massive task given to Matthaei-Nichols as a whole but I did it almost entirely by myself. The choice to meet with the Herbarium and U-M IT staff was my own and one I undertook to expand my understanding of the software and the migration process. I also had many engaging team discussions with our curator David Michener and information specialist Adam Ferris-Smith.
Many questions remain for future curation work on our databases. What information does Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum track now? What information do we want to track in the future? What are we missing in our current record system and how can we consolidate this information? All of these are valid questions for years to come when other staff or interns continue where we left off.
Richard Bryant, from Rochester Hills, MI, is a master's candidate in statistics at the University of Michigan with Bachelor of Science degrees in economics and statistics.