The Landscape Guide

Data storage


Conservation movement - Garden conservation - Comparisions - Education - Garden historians - Data collection - Garden Archaeology - Data storage - Data processing - Conservation plans - Case study

Record keeping must be systematic. If the work is to extend over a long period, as John Harvey states it must, then a carefully methodical approach is essential. Several methods are possible and it is likely that as the work develops more than one will be employed. They are grouped below as traditional and computer-based.

Traditional methods of storing data for garden conservation

  • Notebook and pencil. This is the traditional method. Its advantages that the information is kept together, the equipment can used almost anywhere and the incoming information is ‘date stamped’ according to the order of its acquisition (dates of visits to archives and discoveries should also be recorded). Pencils are preferred by librarians, because they are less-likely to damage archival material, and be field workers, because they function better than other writing implements in wet conditions. The disadvantage of notebooks is that the information so collected is difficult to organise. When a collection of notebooks has been filled, facts are difficult to find. When several researchers are engaged, they are likely to find each other’s writing difficult to read.
  • Card index. Before the days of laptop computers, the sight of investigators writing on index cards was common in research libraries. Cards are easier to mislay than notebooks but they also have advantages: (1) information on different topics can be brought together and cross-referenced (2) if the results of a days work are mislaid or damaged the extent of the loss is minimised (3) the work of different researchers can be brought together.
  • Filing cabinet. Research leads to the assembly of documents: maps, plans, photographs, garden guides, Xerox copies etc. They should be indexed and stored in filing cabinets or box files.

Computer-based methods of storing data for garden conservation

  • Computers can be help in many ways with data assembly and analysis. Much dependson the choice of software.
  • Word processor (eg Word or Word Perfect). This is the type of programme most people start with. They are easy to use. Information can be organised and re-organised. It is well worth learning how to use advanced features, such as master documents, tables of contents and automatic indexing. Text and graphics can be brought together but when a sizable number of graphic files are incorporated file sizes tend to become unwieldy.
  • Web authoring programme (eg Dreamweaver or FrontPage). Once the initial unfamiliarity of these programmes has been overcome, they are little more difficult to use than word processors. The advantages are (1) text and graphics are stored separately, so that information can be organised and re-used (2) the folders (directories) are displayed and organised by the programme (3) the information can easily be made available on an intranet or on the internet. (4) the validity of hyperlinks is maintained when files are moved around.
  • Database (eg Access or MySQL). When you stop to think, it is obvious that data should be stored in databases. They are the computer equivalents of a card index, with a great many extra facilities for organising the data (forms, reports, filtering, sorting etc). A database can also be used to generate a dynamic website (eg using .asp or .php).
  • Geographical Information System (eg MapInfo or ArcGIS). A GIS is a special type of database which, in addition to the facilities of an ordinary database, can use geographic data. This is done by including x, y and z co-ordinates in the database. A GIS can hold and produce maps. The scale of the maps can be changed and the maps can be overlaid. Old maps which were not the result of accurate surveys can be stretched in various ways to facilitate comparisons. Archaeologists are making increasing use of GIS to record and map each artefact. A GIS can also be used to record details of all the plants in a garden: species, planting position, time of planting, maintenance operations etc.

The above notes outline three traditional methods of data assembly and four computer methods. It is likely that small projects will require only the simpler methods and that larger projects will require them all. Providing record-keeping is always systematic, it is always possible to move from a simple to an advanced method. Many projects will begin commence with a ‘notebook, plan and pencil’ and advance to a sophisticated computer-based data management system.