Umbrella 2011: Fitting a round peg into a square hole (B3)

Fitting a round peg into a square hole
Jason Siddall, Suffolk Heritage.

Jason Siddall’s presentation explained the problems he had encountered developing a solution for the Suffolk Heritage website which wanted to share records from a range of different organisations using different management systems on one website.  The needed an online tool which could search records currently held in MODES, CALM and CATALIST and this needed to be sustainable, not with huge yearly ICT bills.

His job was effectively to design himself out of the solution!  A brave man, although I’m sure there are many other jobs for such a talented IT professional elsewhere!  The solution, he emphasised, was something anyone could achieve without a great deal of IT knowledge.  It still looked quite scary to me with some new acronyms to boot!  It revolved around exporting the data in XML then using an XSLT to transform this source XML into the target XML format.  This was achieved by mapping the different fields across (the more difficult technical bit).

It all looked amazing, and showed what could be achieved in terms of co-operation without a huge price tag.  Even images could be attached as long as the file names matched and the images were copied across.

He did agree that there were a few disadvantages:

  • It will not solve any problems with the content of the data. E.g. people using castle vs castles.
  • It will not help if standards of each source database are different.
  • Responsibility for upload in hands of user base – which can be volunteers.  Need to be willing and have the IT resources.

To help solve these problems he suggested using a standard thesaurus and map each of their terms against that rather than trying to make each organisation use the same terms.  In general in fact, He emphasised keeping away from changing the original partner databases in any way.  Instead, make the computer ask, “you searched for X do you want XA?”.

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