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Resources- Internal Protocols

Data Migration to MCZbase

The MCZ has a dual priority for digitization to both capture integral specimen data from the ten research collections and migrate formerly recorded data from individual legacy databases to a comprehensive centralized database system.

The museum database, MCZbase, runs on a much more complicated database structure than any of the legacy departmental databases. This enables collections, moving forward, to store more complex and informative data, including performance and tracking of collection management activities.

Current data-capture efforts are set-up for immediate compatibility with MCZbase. Migrations from legacy databases, however, require various amounts of cleanup and enumeration because of the historical limitations of the old software and/or data structure. Depending on the nature of the issue, the cleanup process may be simpler if tackled either before or after the migration.

PRE-MIGRATION

Cleanup tasks that are preferable before migration generally involve data that needs parsing. Migration problems can occur when the data do not parse cleanly owing to inconsistencies or are conceptually more complex in the new data structure (e.g., type status). There are recommended pre-migration cleanups that will help collections get back to normal activities faster after migration.

MIGRATION VETTING

During this phase, it's extremely important, and the process is easier, if checking the collection data is a department priority. Because the system is more robust and complex, there is a learning curve. Our experience, however, is that the sooner a collection is committed, the sooner they can get back to normal operations. Departments are also encouraged to check with collections already migrated to help learn the system and find out how staff and resources were implemented to check for migration issues.

In addition, departmental procedures will need to be upgraded after the final migration to include the collection management system. In 2007, MCZbase was populated with preliminary data and made available for beta-testing so departments could become familiar with the new system.

Vetting newly migrated data is the opportunity to use the new features and tools, such as loans and accessions, with less-problematic, but still, test data before moving departmental operations to the new system.

Initial Migration

The initial test migration will be preformed on the MCZbase Development server at http://mczbase-dev.lsdiv.harvard.edu
This is a different and distinct machine from the Production server at http://mczbase.mcz.harvard.edu/SpecimenSearch.cfm

It is important for testing and vetting the initial migration that staff members are looking at the MCZbase Development server. In addition, effort should be made for all collection staff to check, query, and run every tool and feature using this data. To run detailed tests, all staff members need to be able to Log In to MCZbase; contact Brendan Haley immediately if there is a problem. During this time, staff should not worry about introducing errors or fixing data problems in MCZbase, since the final migration (with vetted corrections) will override this data.

During this phase, collection data are primarily examined for migration problems. Frequently, however, former databasing errors are also discovered which potentially can be corrected during the final migration, thus saving departmental effort. Some documents from migrated collections are provided to help get up to speed and be thorough during this vetting process.

Data entry can continue in the legacy database during this phase, since the final migration will not occur until testing is completed.

Final Migration

This phase requires a complete and immediate commitment by the department since many collection activities must be put on hold, including data entry, cataloging, and loans. It is the final check and approval of the collection data transfer. In addition, owing to the complexity of the system, other collections that are already migrated are on hold as well.

This stage is crucial; if department operations are resumed and subsequent migration errors are found that require re-migration, all database changes and additions will be lost.

Post-Migration

After final migration and approval, our advice is to jump in with commitment for the change, so there's no temptation to run dual systems.

The structure of MCZbase provides for the storage of far more detailed information about People, Places and Things. It also allows for the more appropriate description of things as unique entities, and the ability to track them across all aspects of the museum collections (for example, knowing that “LAgassiz” and “Louis Agassiz” are in fact the same entity, and that the actions performed by “LAgassiz” are also actions that were performed by “Louis Agassiz”).

There are numerous benefits and capabilities possible with this type of robust system but, to achieve this goal, each collection will need to perform high-level data cleanup using the tools provided in MCZbase. As collection migration moves forward, instructional documents will be posted describing each cleanup process in detail. It is recommended that cleanup of different sections of the database progress in the listed order, since this will make the collection management part of MCZbase run more smoothly for collection staff.

After final migration approval, resources are not available to additionally support the old system so it will be archived, but will remain available for checking purposes for a while.

Departments will find that after switching over to MCZbase and adapting their collection data to take advantage of all the available tools, their ability to work with their data for management and research purposes will increase, and many of their management duties will become easier via the system's automation.


For more information on any of these issues, please contact Linda S. Ford at Collections Operations.