You might think that total confusion would reign if specifying requirements and assigning data Category Numbers was not strictly controlled by “the system.” However, the end users cared deeply about information accuracy and the quality of final products, such as specimen labels, catalog cards and resulting publications. The staff were highly motivated to following the data standards and produce high quality products. Museum staffs were generally acquainted with structured data because of their traditional work cataloging museum specimens and object, and in research data analysis.
The design of a new SELGEM application in the early 70’s was simpler than design of a new information system in 2016. There were three reasons for this: Smithsonian operated a single Honeywell mainframe computer; possessed a single general purpose software “database” tool; and there were only two or three data entry procedures available. In addition some experience acquired in one application, such as cataloging mammal specimens, could be applied directly to another application, say cataloging mollusk specimens. While every discipline has some unique data elements, there were recurring groups of data elements for taxonomic information, geographic information, collectors, etc. that you could build on. Best practices learned designing the earliest SELGEM applications were applied to the design of succeeding applications.
|Stanley A. Kovy Director of Information Systems Division (ISD) |
and early supporter of the SELGEM system. Standing at the
computer console of the upgraded Honeywell 2015, Nov. 1971.
Smithsonian Institution Archives. 71-2785-12.
While Category Numbers could be assigned sequentially without any gaps (001, 002, 003, 004, etc.) there was no technical reason to do that. Theoretically, at least, you had 999 Category Numbers to select from. It was generally believed that a more flexible design was achieved by providing gaps when assigning Category Numbers.
For the scientific name you might have this data structure:
071 genusThis format was frequently adopted even when the systems owner had no intention of entering data for subgenus or subspecies. So the documented design might look like this:
071 genusThis design met the immediate requirements, and provided a flexible logical data structure for the future, with subgenus and subspecies not even defined.
For truly new applications without any precedent, such as an archives catalog, a prototype file of a few records could be created within a day or two. This “prototype file” could be used for what we now call “proof of concept.” It could be reviewed by other staff members for comment and approval. The file could be used to create sample reports, or evaluate how to best structure particular data elements for the most flexible data processing.
Or a proposed application, such as an index of reprint publications, might be very similar to previous applications. Once you have created several bibliographic applications and produced reports for several years, you understand the basic structure and processing requirements of this type of application.
|Deborah Bennett and Tim Coffer, museum technicians, sort trays of shells for the mollusk inventory in the National Museum of Natural History's Division of Mollusks. SELGEM was used to support the inventory and in preparation for the collection move to the Museum Support Center in Suitland, MD. Smithsonian Institution Archives. SIA2009-3232.|
David Bridge, Volunteer
Smithsonian Institution Archives