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Basic guide for database design

I have recently worked on a one-year pilot for Linked Data at the University of Oxford. During this pilot I kept coming up to database design decisions which made publishing Linked Data difficult. This page includes some points to consider when designing your database:

Basic guide for database design

To assist work for Linked Data, when designing a database, please observe the following:

Summarise data

Do not use a different file for each record. It is easier to process data automatically if the records are all in the same table. If you want to present or print the data on a per-record basis, then consider a template to "read" records from the table and produce nice-looking pages. To build Linked Data the summarised table is by far more useful.

Avoid free-text

Instead of:

Manuscript with shelfmark MS-Iliad carrying text by Homer.

It should be:

Field Data
shelfmark MS-Iliad
author Homer

Why? It is difficult for software to process free text, remove the syntax and identify the entities we are talking about (i.e. MS-Iliad and Homer). It is much easier to identify these if there is no syntax.

Keep information separate

Avoid bundling together different entities. For example instead of a record being:

Dimension
height: 20, width: 10, thickness: 5

It should be:

Dimension Value
height 20
width 10
thickness 5

Why? In Linked Data, each entity needs to stand on its own. Splitting a bundled field programmatically is difficult as often there are no consistent formulas that fields are bundled up.

Do not merge cells or use line breaks

When using spreadsheets to produce records do not use the merge cells function.

Instead of:

Value Unit
Height 20 cm
Width 10 cm
Thickness Max thickness 8 cm
Min thickness 5 cm

It should be:

Dimension Value Unit
height 20 cm
width 10 cm
min thickness 5 cm
max thickness 8 cm

Similarly do not use linefeeds within cells to indicate multiple records. Use instead a delimeter like | which is much easier to process.

Why? It is much easier to "read" the data if it is all in a canonical table on a row-by-row basis. Merged cells and linefeeds break that canonical structure or confuse the rows.

Use identifiers

Give identifiers to entities contributing to a record. For example, instead of:

Shelfmark Author
MS-Iliad Homer

It should be:

Manuscript ID Shelfmark Author ID Author
1234 MS-Iliad 5678 Homer

Why? Not having an identifier means that the included entity (e.g. Homer) is "hidden" in text and cannot be matched to other occurences across the database. Some institutions choose to produce UUIDs as identifiers for each entity.
Note that if there are multiple authors either a new table would be neccessary or multiple rows of MS-Iliad would be required, each with a different author. This indicates the requirement for a so-called one-to-many relationship across entities which is difficult to replicate on a single spreadsheet.

Use external authorities

Allow space for external identifiers of entities. Instead of:

Author ID Author name
5678 Homer

It should be:

Author ID Author name External Authority External ID
5678 Homer VIAF 224924963
5678 Homer WikiData Q6691

Why? Linked data depend on establishing links with other datasets. This process is known as reconciliation or disambiguation. For example 5678 "Homer" is the same person as the one described in VIAF: https://viaf.org/viaf/224924963. It is useful for a database to be able to store external identifiers for entities (even external labels) to enable this linking. There are many authority files and thesauri which publish identifiers for their records. Make sure that when you are building your records you can capture these.

Reference images

Do not insert image files in your records. Only add the location as a reference to where the image can be seen. Preferably this should be a URL but in theory local paths are equally useful.

The Clarkson Slide Archive crowdfunding appeal

We are happy to announce that our crowdfunding appeal had raised over £11,000. The money will be used to employ a project assistant in Oxford next year to continue the work on the Clarkson Slide Archive Project. we would like to thank all of our donors for their extraordinary generosity and let you know that any further donations will always be welcomed!

Please watch this space for more updates.

Early sixteenth-century binding

This is the early sixteenth-century binding from the flooded stacks of the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence that fired Chris Clarkson’s interest in the laced-case limp parchment binding as a conservation structure. The thickness of the goatskin parchment cover, the lacing of all the slips along both joints and a substantial sewing structure on double alum-tawed sewing supports with structural endbands created a structure that survived not only more than four centuries of use but also saturation with water followed by drying.

Nicholas Pickwoad

The Clarkson Slide Archive fundraising

15th-century German binding

Slide 1654

A group of three 15th-century German bindings, each with a full limp cover of parchment used as a pierced support with a fore-edge envelope flap with cord and decorated metal button fastenings. Each has on the spine an external (secondary) pierced support, one of tanned skin and one of either alum-tawed skin or thick parchment with a combination of longstitch and chain stitch sewing, and one with tanned skin with chainstitch sewing only. The tanned skin external supports are decorated with blind tooling and piercing (with a coloured sheet material, probably parchment, under).

Nicholas Pickwoad

Boissonnas and Egypt Conference Invitation | 2 November 2017 | Royal Geographical Society

Boissonnas and Egypt Conference

Royal Geographical Society
1 Kensington Gore
London, SW7 2AR
United Kingdom
2nd November 2017
10.00-17.30

The conference will present different perspectives on the context of 1920s Egypt in relation to Boissonnas’s work and explore wider debates around photography and cultural geography.

The conference will be followed by a private view of the exhibition from 17.30-19.30.

Tickets for the conference £35/£10 concession (lunch and refreshments included)
https://www.saintcatherinefoundation.org/shop-7

Speakers:
Dr Estelle Sohier (Université de Genève)
Dr Ahmed Shams (Durham University)
Dr George Manginis (Benaki Museum)
Ramsay Cameron (Independent Filmmaker)
Dr Kathleen Brunner (Independent Scholar)
Professor Oriana Baddeley (University of the Arts London)

FULL PROGRAMME:

10.00 Arrival, tea & coffee
10.15 Welcome and introduction by Professor Oriana Baddeley
10.30 Dr George Manginis, 'Into Cheltenham' - On the Way to Mount Sinai
11.15 Dr Ahmed Shams, A Swiss Photographic Voyage
12.00 Screening of a re-construction of Fred Boissonnas’s Lecture V (originally delivered at the Salle de L’Athenee, Geneva, on Tuesday 19th November,1935) describing his visit to Saint Catherine’s Monastery. Introduced by the film’s producer, Ramsay Cameron.
12.45 Panel discussion - Chair Prof. Oriana Baddeley
13.15 Lunch break
14.15 Dr Estelle Sohier, L'Egypte by Fred Boissonnas (1932): a Photographic Monument for the Egyptian Nation
15.00 Dr Kathy Brunner, Boissonnas' Return to Egypt, the Unfinished Sinai Project
15.45 Tea & coffee
16.15 Professor Oriana Baddeley, Boissonnas, Modernity and the Aesthetics of the Wilderness
17.00 Panel discussion - Chair Ewelina Warner
17.30 Private view of Boissonnas in Egypt exhibition

Fifteenth-century Germanic binding

Board-attachment lacing patterns from the early middle ages onwards are enormously varied, and carry within them the possibility of identifying national, local and even workshop provenances. Chris found this example, with its very distinctive lacing pattern, on a fifteenth-century Germanic binding on a manuscript copy of Jacopo de Voragine, Sermones de tempore with oak boards covered in pink-stained alum-tawed skin. The bookblock was sewn on three double and two single cord sewing supports, with separately-sewn endbands and has seven entry holes where the slips are laced into the boards and only three exit holes, where the slips were secured with wooden pegs. Any other example with the same lacing pattern is likely to come from the same workshop.

Nicholas Pickwoad

Blocks Plates Stones Conference | Institute of English Studies

BLOCKS PLATES STONES: Matrices/Printing Surfaces in Research and Collection

21 September 2017, Courtauld Institute of Art & British Academy, London

Details and programme: http://bit.ly/BlocksPlatesStones-Register

Convenor: Dr Elizabeth Savage (Institute of English Studies)

A deeply interdisciplinary conference, BLOCKS PLATES STONES will survey the state of research into cut woodblocks, intaglio plates, lithographic stones, and other matrices/printing surfaces. It will bring together researchers, curators, special collections librarians, printers, printmakers, cataloguers, conservators, art historians, book historians, digital humanities practitioners, scientists, and others who care for these objects, seek to understand them, or use them in research. The discussion will encompass all media and techniques, from the fifteenth century through the present, with a programme including papers, posters, object handling sessions, and demonstrations.

KEYNOTE ROUNDTABLE

Richard S Field (Yale), Maria Goldoni (Galleria Estense), James Mosley (IES; Reading), 
Ad Stijnman (Leiden), and Michael Twyman (Reading)

SPEAKERS

Laura Aldovini (Università Cattolica; Cini), Rob Banham (Reading), Jean-Gérald Castex (Louvre), Rosalba Dinoia (independent),Neil Harris (Udine), Konstantina Elmaloglou (Technological Educational Institute of Athens), Huigen Leeflang (Rijksmuseum), Giorgio Marini (Uffizi), Julie Mellby (Princeton), Andreas Sampatakos (Technological Educational Institute of Athens), Linda Stiber Morenus (Library of Congress), Arie Pappot (Rijksmuseum), Elizabeth Savage (IES), Jane Rodgers Siegel (Columbia), Femke Speelberg (Met), and Amy Worthen (Des Moines Art Centre)

POSTERS & OBJECT SESSIONS

Constança Arouca (Orient Museum), Teun Baar (Apple), Cathleen A. Baker (Michigan), Rob Banham (Reading), Maarten Bassens (Royal Library of Belgium; KU Leuven), Giles Bergel (Oxford), Annemarie Bilclough (V&A), Chris Daunt (Society of Wood Engravers), Gigliola Gentile (Sapienza), Jasleen Kandhari (Leeds), Nicholas Knowles (Independent), Peter Lawrence (Society of Wood Engravers), Marc Lindeijer SJ (Société des Bollandistes), Anna Manicka (National Museum, Warsaw), Peter McCallion (West of England), Melissa Olen (West of England), Maria V. Ortiz-Segovia (Océ Print Logic Technologies), Carinna Parraman (West of England), Marc Proesmans (KU Leuven), Rose Roberto (Reading; National Museums Scotland), Fulvio Simoni (Bologna), Rachel Sloan (Courtauld), Francesca Tancini (Bologna), Joris Van Grieken (Royal Library of Belgium), Bruno Vandermeulen (KU Leuven), Genevieve Verdigel (Warburg), Lieve Watteeuw (Illuminare), Christina Weyl (independent), and Hazel Wilkinson (Birmingham)

Register for BLOCKS PLATES STONES (London, 21 Sept 2017): http://bit.ly/BlocksPlatesStones

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