Database Modification

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After the arrival of Mona, Chris and Kara, the launch of MAARA was about to start on Monday. An in depth lecture, which lasted for about an hour by Mona paved us the way for a step by step plan. As Mona stressed on ACCESSIBILITY, it prompted me to think of how our accessible is our database system for the archive? Yes, it is accessible but researchers don’t really find it comfortable going through the layouts of the various data fields because of its few errors and unattractiveness it looks. We receive complaints and question because people think there are problems with it. I explained to Kara about how it should be to the user – friendly and easily accessible. We also later found out that there would need to be new fields added for the digitization technicians so that they could track their work.

This called for modification of our FileMaker Pro database which is using a template by Independent Media Arts Preservation (IMAP) and updated by Kelly Haydon, a former NYU MIAP student, during her summer internship at IAS in 2012. Even though I was the one who called for modification of the database which experts in the field had already designed, I was quite scared I might destroy it because am not of the same level of experience as Kelly and the people who designed the template itself.

But since I was with Kara, I had hope. We had a strategic plan so as we wouldn’t lose the original template. We made a copy which we used to work on the modifications offline. We started with the simple tasks: adding the new fields and value lists for the digitization process. This didn’t take long. Next we moved onto fixing the layout. I told Kara from the start that this would be easy as well, however only once we started did we realize that the problems were deeper than we realized. There were certain hidden buttons in the tab headings of the template which had no mission there and absolutely had no effect on the template, but where causing lots of issues.

The database template includes nine tab panels which are hyperlinks to take the user to different screens, which each display different sets of fields. When working with the database offline, the cursor changes to a hand when the mouse is moved on each tab headings, but for some reason, when working online the cursor did not change to the hand on seven of the nine tab headings. This causes our researchers a lot of frustration, as they feel that something is broken. I advised Kara that since this technical error has an effect only on the tab headings we should work on adjusting the tab headings position and size. At first this seemed like a simple fix. As we navigated through the layouts, we latter realized it wasn’t just tab the heading position and size, but some buttons were created and hidden behind the tab headings which had no relevance of being there and had no usage as some data fields had elapsed. The unnecessary buttons were deleted, and the elapsed data fields were corrected and positioned accurately. We saved, switched from editing mode to view it online but to our surprise the problem was still staring at us.

After few discussions we decided to combine nine layouts to become one and insert it on a new panel with nine tabs, rather than nine panels each with their own tab. This is essentially a complete revision of the layout, and a fairly large effort. The only problem: wow, this will take centuries because each layout has so many data fields, so we needed to find a way to finish it quickly, as the digitization team needed to access the database. Kara suggested that we can finish it with hard work. We would start the next day.

The next day, Thursday, after taking breakfast we decided to hit the track and move as effectively as possible. We decided that each of us was going to work separately on different tab panels, on different computers, then we combine it to become one which we didn’t actually know how to make it but Kara had hope and felt she could do it. Some hours as we continue to ask ourselves “how is it going”, we all said it was good and YES, it was good, but it was time-consuming and we couldn’t finish during the working hours. It was tiring as one is keeping an eye on data fields which critical since more than a thousand data values have been done in each so I worried that if I took my hands off the backspace or delete key it would cause a disaster. At the end of the day, Kara asked me to copy what I had to her to combine it when she gets home. I also decided to continue when I get home. After taking a warm shower I realized how being so tired caused me to copy the wrong template to Kara. Oh! Tomorrow is Friday and that is the last day. I decided to continue with what I had, not realizing there were so many errors. Data fields were misleading all over, and I decided to start all over again, but within 15 minutes, I gave up and went to bed thinking I will recommend Kara that we need to find another solution to this problem when she gets back to the States.

Friday morning when I met Kara, I knew she was going to say, but she understood me, she saw tiredness written on my face and that made me to send her the wrong one. And I also told her we should change our plan as it was time-consuming and data fields were overlapping but she insisted that we should stick to the existing plan because it’s the best and we can go work it out. I decide to start everything again from scratch. She showed me a trick that I could work faster, which was really helpful. Within some hours everybody was done with its part of the work. Hurray! She sent her copy to me as she decided to combine two works on my laptop. To our surprise her version of the software was different from mine and we had to change it to the existing version which we tried for a time, but we couldn’t but I decided to let it go and continue her work on mine so it was starting her work from scratch but yes I did it and it was good. Before the day was over I had complete everything, Kara felt so amazed as I ask her to add some colours to beautify it. Colours were added and we decided to give it a title before we launch it to the rest of the crew. It was given “Institute of African Studies Audio Visual Database”. Kara created new data fields that the technicians in the digital lab will catalog. Before we got to the digital lab the crew had seen it as they were online and congratulated us so we decided to heed to the archivist Judith. Kara said “we have something that could make you happy” as she responded “yes, what is it”. I opened the database the online and she felt amused as she congratulated us. YES WE MADE IT WITHIN A DAY!

This is my greatest challenge so far as I thought something that will take me centuries took me a day. All technical errors are solved and the database looks attractive now. The technicians can enter the information they need, and researchers no longer think that the database is broken.

Long live this team (Kara and George), long live MAARA! And if you would like to conduct research using the database, please contact us.

The previous IAS FileMaker Pro database
The previous IAS FileMaker Pro database
The revised IAS FileMaker Pro database
The revised IAS FileMaker Pro database



George Gyesaw

Database Administrator at the Institute of African Studies Archive. Train and conduct research for students, researchers and scholars.

6 thoughts on “Database Modification

  1. This is quite impressive. During the duration of my time on legon, we did not had the opportunity to see some of the current happenings in African Studies department.

  2. Bravo! George and Kara, I didn’t know the database modifications could be made within that short time. It was a real shock to see the new catchy template. I’m convinced that users will love using it. George is a good resource for this archive.

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