Designing the Database

Over the past two weeks, I’ve begun testing living collections management systems with data from our pilot parks. Alongside extremely helpful conversations with professionals in the field who have experience in everything from horticulture to technology (and a healthy mix of both!), the project is beginning to take a clearer and more focused shape. We had an especially productive conversation with Emily Detrick, who is completing her thesis at Cornell with a focus on living collections management systems, and Keith Park, the horticulturalist at John Muir National Historic Site in California – thank you for your time!

The more we dig into this project, the more apparent it becomes that there will not be a one size fits all solution to collections management across the entire park service. Ultimately, the decision breaks down into three major categories: what the spirit and direction of the park’s living collection policy is, the internal power and potential of the system, and the external interpretive potential. Although it may sound straight forward, crafting a living collections policy is a complex procedure, so I’m going to save talking about that and interpretive potential for a later date.


Collection information can be georeferenced and interpreted through mapping.

Internal capabilities of a database are important from a maintenance and historic standpoint, but a recent visit with the archaeology program brought to mind an extra consideration. Within archaeology is the “Vanishing Treasures” program that considers not just physical loss, but the persistent loss of long-term employees’ knowledge-bases when they move on. A strong and functional database captures these dynamic physical and narrative histories, and empowers employees to share and build on each others’ knowledge. Internally, we are considering functionalities like georeferencing, taxonomic information, maintenance histories or needs, phenological data, and photography. We are also considering, however, how to incorporate cultural histories and non-quantifiable knowledge. In addition, we are evaluating price and usability, so whatever system is chosen is a benefit and not a burden.


Most databases can be entered in descriptive form view, like the one above, or manipulated in large batches similar to Excel spreadsheets.

Check back in for more information on our other parameters for consideration. Before I go, I’d like to thank our SCA coordinator Kerri Weeks for throwing a delightful pizza party for all the interns. The Designing the Parks Interns had a blast meeting everyone!

3 responses to “Designing the Database

  1. I really like your holistic approach to the inventory–looking at both the cultural landscape and the culture of long term management. Keith Parks is a great contact because he has been experimenting with tablet-based data collection. Kerri was here too!

  2. Pingback: Learning to Teach Cultural Landscapes | Designing the Parks·

  3. Pingback: Branching Out Teach Back | Designing the Parks·

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