Review of Conservation Materials Database (NPS Grant # MT-2210-8-NC-12) Gordon Hanlon – 1 November 1999.
The database is an extraordinary achievement and will be an incredibly important addition for all people in the preservation field. It is bringing together a wide range of materials from many different specializations and will be useful for a wide range of users from students to conservation professionals. In addition to the information on each material, I think one of the most valuable aspects will be the reference section pointing towards additional information. Ideally the database will be added to and updated periodically so that new materials and references can be added.
Instructions for Use
- How to search the database –search strategies.
- Current Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) should always be referred to before using a material.
- List of abbreviations used in database.
I think that FILEMAKER PRO was a very good choice for the database. It is a reasonable straightforward database both with regard to designing the layout of the database and is easy to use. However I believe there are some limitations to the program, such as the ability to search several fields at once, which needs to be pointed out in the introductory instructions on how to use the database.
- In the present version of the database it is not possible to minimize the database so that you can work on another program, eg: Microsoft WORD, without first closing the Materials database. Is this only because it is a working version of the database? It would be a great advantage to be able to work on other documents while having the database open.
- Is it possible to have the menu of layouts (in the top left-hand corner of the screen) permanently visible in the form of buttons for different layouts at the top of the screen.
- At the introductory search page there are three different fields which can be searched—name, synonym and description. Is it possible in Filemaker Pro to have only one search option that would search all three fields at once? I suspect that this is a limitation of Filemaker Pro but the problem at present is that you could search under the main heading and not find the material you are looking for because it is in the SYNONYM field (eg: Campeachy).For example: searching for OAKusing each different search option gave the following results.NAME 38 hits
SYNONYM 12 hits
DESCRIPTION 46 hitsThe speed of the search seems to be the same in all three searches. If it is not possible to combine the searching of the three fields at once, it will be important to give clear instructions on searching at the beginning of the database.
- On a few occasions I had problems finding items I was searching for due to different spellings. For instance searching for Polyvinyl alcohol or poly(vinyl) alcohol, produced very different results. For instance if search for Polyvinyl alcohol there were NO hits when searching the name and synonym fields and one when searching the description field for synthetic chamois leather. However if searching for poly(vinyl) alcohol in the name search mode the result is two references to the resin. However in other cases both forms of a word are entered and are cross-referenced, for instance, all records including SULPHUR or SULFUR.
- A related problem may be that not all the names for a material will lead to the correct reference. One example I found was Urushi (a common word for oriental lacquer) did not find lacquer. There were no hits under the “Name” and “Synonym” searches and two hits when searching the description field were for Oil gilding and Zirconium oxide, but no hits for oriental lacquer.
- Very good. I searched many obscure materials and was very impressed by the coverage of the database. Inevitably there are materials that are not covered and I have been keeping a list of materials which need to be added. Adding materials to the database will be an ongoing process until and after the “final” version. How are the additions to be made? The reviewers can suggest new entries for materials not covered at present and can suggest additional references to support the entries. In addition it may also be interesting to allow users of the database to suggest additions. Suggestions for additions would then need to be sent to the person who was responsible for updating the database, who would review the additions for accuracy etc. and add them to the database.
- I was surprised to see many entries for techniques, concepts and analytical methods were covered in the database such as abrasion, marquetry or absorption spectroscopy. Although I think that the addition of these categories will greatly enhance the dictionary, I think the first priority should be to complete all the entries and that concepts and techniques should be added latter. This could possibly be completed in the present project or as a separate future project.
- For additional information on techniques it may be interesting to refer to the Groves Art Dictionary. This could be useful for information but could also be cited as a reference for further information.
- All entries need to be checked by the appropriate reviewer for accuracy. I feel the best way for this to be done would be for each entry to be printed out separately and to be sent to the appropriate reviewer for comment on accuracy, omissions and especially additional references, especially with regard to its application in conservation.
- Any reference to safety information should be dated. Fortunately safety limits for many materials are become tighter and dating safety information would warn any user of the database of how current and therefore accurate is the safety information.
- For more information — Excellent that this field is included. The condensed format will in most cases be sufficient for many inquiries but a good reference to where to get additional information would be invaluable. See further comments see “References”.
The comprehensive coverage of the materials both found in objects and used for their conservation will make this an invaluable aid for all working in the conservation field. In addition to the information available for each material in the database, one of the most valuable aspects of the database will be the reference section for each entry.
- The reference section is crucial. Are references only included which are directly associated with the chemistry or properties of a material? Or are references of where a material has been used for a particular conservation problem to be included. I am in favour of the latter but care will need to be taken when recommending articles that refer to treatments. Maybe a warning would need to be added at the front of the database that any references are for information only and are not recommended treatments.
- More references should be added by the reviewers.
- Are the two sources of the information used in the description of the database to be cited either in the references or elsewhere in the entries?
- References will sometimes give valuable information on recipes or the use of a particular material, for instance Koob, S (1986) “The use of Paraloid B-72 as an adhesive for ceramics and other materials” Studies in Conservation, 31. The addition of such articles would extend the usefulness of the database.
- Some references in the present version of the database were not complete. For instance the entry for ABACA has the reference “King, 1985″.
- Will there be an opportunity to update records in the future with new references?
How would this be done? Is there a way to link the database with AATA?
- On the computer screen I am using the database does not all fit on the screen. It is therefore necessary to scroll over sideways to read all the information.
- Is there any way to have links between records? For instance, if you perform a search for “African Cherry” the record will say “see Cherrywood” and I wonder if it is possible to click on “see Cherrywood” and automatically go to that record.
When printing out records, the right side of the record is cut off.
The database is still in the process of being created but for some entries there does appear to be inconsistencies in the descriptions of the materials. I felt this mainly for the descriptions of woods. This is always a very difficult area because woods always have so many different names and often common names can refer to two completely different species.
Trade names need manufacturers name, address etc.
- What units are used for density? The record for English Oak used the units “ppcf” — pounds per cubic foot. It might be good to include a key of any abbreviations at the front of the database.
- CAS # . List in abbreviations — Chemical Abstract #.
Completeness of Records
- I reviewed the information on the different species of wood in the database. The information varies considerably for different wood entries with some being more complete than are others. In general I think the records for wood are adequate but could be improved by the addition of some information. In general I think a good checklist for woods should include…
- Genus and SPecies Name
- Geographical Locations – where it grows!
- Grain – type, size, distinctive features
- Specific Gravity (air dry)
- Weight per cubic foot
- Use – timber or as a source for resins or dyes for instance
Recently I have come across a book called “Commercial Foreign Woods on the American Market” by David A. Kribs, Dover, 1968. This is by far the best book that I have ever seen on this topic and the descriptions and the listing of alternative names for woods is unparalleled. In addition the book “World Woods in Color” by William A. Lincoln, Linden Publishing, 1986, is also very good and complements the Kribs book. I think these two books should be used for checking the wood entries.
Is there any possibility to add images to the database in the future? I know that images can be incorpprated into Filemaker Pro records although there may be problems with the increase in file size. However, if it was possible it could be useful for woods – both macro and microscopic pictures of structure.
Optimum Manner for Distribution of Database:
It is crucial that the database is searchable. That is the great advantage of a database like Filemaker Pro and the way you have designed the database so that all fields can be searched. It is so important because of the many different names which materials have, or the connections between materials that may not be apparent with a non-searchable or hard copy. A hard copy would be useful BUT if funds were available to continue to add and update the database obviously a digital version will be better. The ideal distribution for the database would be a searchable web version that could be continuously updated. However there are benefits in a CD-ROM version, which could be permanently housed on a users computer and would not require web access. Of course the disadvantage is that this version could not be updated.