Vol. XII, No. 1

Spring, 1999

Letter to the Editor

Email to the Editor:

Concerning your article about where to begin with electronic database use, I can offer several other suggestions to your readers:

  1. Consider how many records you may want the database to hold. If fewer than about 5,000 per table, you can consider using PC-based tools such as MS Access®. If more than about 5,000 records, you should consider more robust products, such as MS SQL Server® or Oracle®, that will require their own computer to act as a database server.
  2. For modest projects, you might not require a database tool at all. Electronic spreadsheets, such as MS Excel®, might be sufficient if you have a small number of records and want to sort them in a simple manner.
  3. Do not forget the value of consulting with local PC clubs or user groups. The advice is usually free. For example, here in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area we have the North Texas PC Users Group, an umbrella organization sponsoring monthly meetings on Saturdays. Under the umbrella are special interest groups (SIGs), including ones for MS Access, MS Excel, and Oracle.
  4. Finally, you need to think about future computing trends when making this substantial investment of time, effort, and money. Databases in the future may need to include such things as email messages, Web documents or pointers, graphics, spreadsheets ó almost anything created by a computer. This means that database software will have to evolve; so you should learn what you can about future directions from the vendors of whatever software products you are interested in.

Dr. Richard "Dick" Vedder
Associate Professor of MIS5
BCIS Department
University of North Texas

Authorís Response:

I agree with most of Mr. Vedderís comments and thank him especially for mentioning PC clubs and user groups. Members of those groups are often very eager to help serious users. However, I am not sure I would worry about the limit of 5000 records per table noted as his first point. That limit has more to do with speed of access and response than anything else; larger databases can certainly be handled by PCs and MACs, with speed being the only problem. Furthermore, relying on a server is impractical in the field and adds significant overhead for computing power and (expensive) expertise in setting up the database implementation in the home institution.

I would also want to be sure to recommend a spreadsheet for only the simplest of jobs. For those jobs, a spreadsheet will work, as Mr. Vedder has rightly noted. In addition, spreadhseet data can easily be exported to a database later. Unfortunately, I have seen spreadsheets used very badly too often; so I would warn users to resist the temptation to use them for anything that is at all complex, lest they miss out on useful capabilities of relatively simple database programs in the process.

Harrison Eiteljorg, II

To send comments or questions to either author, please see our email contacts page.

For other Newsletter articles concerning the use of electronic media or databases in the humanities, consult the Subject index.

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