General Comments on Overall Design
The database is a very impressive undertaking that will be a great contribution to research efforts of art historians, conservators and other scholars. Working with the database has been extremely interesting and useful. In general, I found information in it easy to access and a good core of basic information on the topic available under each heading. Both the level of its usefulness and any potential difficulties in the database stem from the magnitude of this undertaking.
I was unable to view the entire layout at one time on my computer at home – perhaps there is a way to correct this, or perhaps my computer screen is too small. Scrolling across the page is inconvenient.
I presume a set of instructions on the use of the database will be provided.
Some of the sources are rather time-sensitive, since for example vendors may go out of business (eg. Conservation Materials) or commercial products may change formulation without notice. I suspect for these reasons that the updating process will need to be ongoing. A statement to this effect should be made in introductory information. This points to a larger issue: in light of the new information continually made available in many areas covered by the database, the document should be considered a flexible entity, one which is under continual refinement and growth. This inherent characteristic would be well supported by a flexible format such as a web site, and would make the information available most current. The database would fulfill its greatest potential and usefulness as a much larger entity than as it was originally conceived.
No other programs were visible/available on screen when using the database, so for example if I was running Microsoft Word, I was unable to determine whether it was possible to copy information from the database into a word processing document. This function would be extremely useful for researchers.
General categories of search provided incomplete information which could be accessed in other ways; I wonder whether these are of greatest usefulness, or will simply mislead the more casual user of the database.
Some of the architecture entries found in only one reference seem to be of limited applicability to the field of conservation, although admittedly this is not my area of expertise; for example, bituminized fiber pipe, black iron pipe.
All the information for a single name and its synonyms should be available in the same search, rather than having to search the name and its synonyms separately. I understand that the database is not yet complete, but found only a few entries when I typed in a general topic such as “ceramics adhesive”; this would, for example, lead the unititiated to assume that we only use cyanoacrylate to adhere ceramics. Also, “consolidant” gave some terms and some materials, but, for example, no stone consolidants came up (I was looking for silanes), and when “stone consolidant” was searched, only the term “absorption” was retrieved. Other terms such as “fillers” retrieved spurious entries such as “Calgon”, but not microballoons, a common filler in use today. Searching “microballoons” did not produce any hits, but I found it under microspheres as “Micro- Balloons”.
It would be useful to be able to see the reference(s) on the database entry itself rather than having to move to another page. Page references will be important to researchers.
Proprietary products should have qualifiers attached to descriptions, especially if they come from commercial catalogues (eg. “Bookkeeper” or “Wei-T’o”), as manufacturers may make unsubstantiated claims which practice or research does not support.
Editing and corrections are of course needed. Copy editing to remove typographic errors, etc. is straightforward. Editing to complete content in each entry seems to be a protracted process, one which can continue indefinitely after the database is released. As new literature is published, references and additional information will become available that should be incorporated into the database. This will no doubt require numerous editors for each area of the fields covered.
The inclusion of U.S. trade names for materials (and they should be included) raises the issue of inclusion of common trade names from other countries, and possible eventual production of other country/language-based versions.
The database is a much needed compilation of information on the materials of art, architecture, artifacts and materials used in conservation. It will certainly become one of the most well-used reference tools in the field of conservation.
I strongly recommend the production of the database in both CD-ROM and in printed form, as many researchers would find the latter format extremely useful as well. However, this format necessarily limits the timeliness of information provided. I can envision a CD-ROM version published with the print edition, and updates provided on the web site. Perhaps one could subscribe to the database and thereby be provided with print edition, CD-ROM and yearly access to the web site for updates. I imagine that substantial funding would be required for this manifestation of the project.
It will be important to make references as complete as possible, with page numbers for each.
Release on a regular basis in printed form (probably best as a simple alphabetic dictionary), CD-ROM and consider the development of a web site which could include the most recent version of the database as well as updated information. Researchers could subscribe to this. This capacity to update is particularly important in the area of health and safety information on chemicals used in conservation; perhaps the web site information on these materials can be linked to CAS numbers, the Hazardous Materials Database, MSDS or other resources which are continually updated.
Acronyms: CMD – or CDR, Conservation Desk Reference, like the Physicians Desk Reference, PDR, not a bad thing! Or: CMD, Conservation Materials Database, or CAMD, Conservation and Materials Database? CAAMD, Conservation and Art Materials Database?
Congratulations on an excellent and much needed resource. The database is well organized and well-thought out. It has been a privilege to assist in the process of its development. I look forward to using it in the future.