SCDDB Collections Q & A

I wrote this in January 2013 to introduce the idea of collections on the SCDDB »dancedata-friends« mailing list. Since I've been working on collections recently, it seems like a good idea to give the article a more prominent place.

Q. What are »collections« and what are they good for?

A. The idea is that you tell the database what stuff you have, and the database then lets you restrict its operation to deal only with that stuff.

Q. Why would that be useful?

A. Imagine you're a dance teacher planning your next lesson. When searching for dances with a specific formation, there's little sense in having to look at lots of dances that you don't actually have instructions for.

Q. Are collections only for dances?

A. No – collections are going to be able to contain publications, dances, albums, and recordings. (At first, anyway. Tunes might also be useful for musicians but we won't go there quite yet.)

Q. Why bother with dances and recordings – won't dealing with just publications and albums be enough?

A. In theory, yes. In real life, people tend to amass photocopies (or PDF files) of dance descriptions, and – using web sites such as the iTunes store – it is now possible to download individual tracks from some albums. Also, some dances circulate as leaflets without having been formally published, so they are not part of any publication in the database and would be impossible to add to a collection in a system that only dealt with publications.

Q. Will I have to go to the database page for every single dance, publication, album, and recording that I have in order to add it to the database?

A. Hopefully not! While it will be quite possible to add individual »items« to a collection, there will be a way of giving the database a list of items to add in bulk.

Generally, adding a publication to a collection will add all the dances in that publication (and the same applies to albums and recordings). So you will only need to add »loose« dances individually.

Q. How is »bulk adding« supposed to work?

A. The current idea is that you will be able to download a CSV file containing the database IDs, names, and useful additional information (such as a book's publisher) for all the publications or albums in the database. You can then use a program like Excel or OpenOffice Calc to »import« this file and flag all the items that you actually have, before »exporting« it to CSV and re-uploading it to the SCDDB web site.

Adding dances could work the same way, but a 14,000+ line Excel sheet might be a bit unwieldy (the same applies to recordings, to a lesser degree). We'll have to see what people are prepared to put up with, or whether anyone has a better idea.

Q. I used to use Alan Paterson's DanceData program to keep track of what I have. Will it be possible to »import« that existing data into the web-based database?

A. Perhaps. I haven't looked into it yet.

Q. What about Patty Lindsay's »GhillieTracks« program? Will it be possible to »synchronise« GhillieTracks's idea of what I own with that of SCDDB?

A. Perhaps. I shall have to talk to Patty about this. (I don't know a lot about GhillieTracks.)

Q. I have a list of all my dance books together with the number of the shelf where each book is stored. Will I be able to store the shelf numbers in a SCDDB collection?

A. Yes – every item will have a free-form »comment«/»additional data« field that is designed to contain that sort of information. You will need to come up with your own conventions for what goes in there.

Q. I have lots of dance descriptions as PDF files on my computer, and also lots of MP3 files. Can the database know about these and help me organise them?

A. We're considering storing URLs with collection items, which could also refer to local files. (If you use several computers to store items you will need to arrange for the file names to be the same on all of your computers for this to work best.) At first you will probably be responsible for entering your own file names into the database, although someone could write a program to scan your hard disk and do this automatically.

Q. How will collections show up on SCDDB's web pages?

A. The current idea is to add a »collection selector« to the »Navigation« box in the right-hand column. This would let you pick »no collection«, one of your collections, or »any of your collections«. From that moment, the database will restrict its operations to the items (albums, recordings, dances, or publications) in that collection – until you select another collection, »no collection«, or »any collection«.

On the detail pages for items that are able to be part of a collection, there will be a list of all of your collections that contain the item in question, together with any additional data or URL that you entered.

There is also going to be a »Collections« page where you can look at your collections, add new collections, or delete existing ones if you need to (among other things).

Q. Why would I want to have more than one collection?

A. Suppose you have lots of music on your PC and part of that music on your iPod. This lets you keep track of what is on either. Or consider that you're teaching a workshop abroad and can only bring so many books. If for whatever reason you need to be able to re-plan your lessons it is convenient to have the use of a temporary collection of exactly the material you brought with you, instead of having to go through various paper books manually.

Q. Can other database users look at my collections at all?

A. Not at first. Generally, collections can only be accessed by their »owners« – the people who originally set them up. In the future it may become possible to let other users look at your collections, or even change them.

Q. Why on earth would that be useful?

A. Consider the case of a shared »club laptop« where teachers can add new CDs that the club bought, or new dance descriptions that they downloaded from the Internet.

You could let other local teachers look at your collection of resources and vice-versa. That would make it easier to lend and borrow publications because you don't need to ask the other teachers whether they have X, and they don't need to go check.

Finally, consider the way some dance clubs, or federations of dance clubs, operate for the purpose of holding regular dances. There could be a pool of dances or publications that are eligible for social programmes, and that pool could change over time. A shared collection would be one way of managing that pool conveniently for all its users.

Q. All right, this sounds somewhat useful. When can we expect to see this in the database?

A. Hopefully soon, but of course with spare-time projects such as these it is difficult to make concrete promises. In the meantime, feel free to suggest improvements or additional features that you might like to see.

You see things, and you say »Why?« But I dream things that never were, and say »Why not?«
– George Bernard Shaw