arrowCIRSS Home arrow Publications arrow Publication Detail

How Databases Learn

Full APA Reference

Thomer, A. K., & Twidale, M. B. (2014, March). How Databases Learn. Note presented at iConference 2014, Berlin, Germany.

Publication Abstract

For at least the last 40 years, the relational database has been a fixture of the modern research laboratory -- used to catalog and organize specimens and petri dishes, as well as to organize and store research data and analyses; Manovich goes so far as to call them the “key form of cultural expression” in the computer age (1999). Yet, though there are numerous textbooks on database design and short-term maintenance, and a fair amount of LIS and CSCW literature exploring people’s use of, and on-going collaboration around, databases, there is still a need for deeper exploration of how these artifacts change, grow and are maintained in the long term, and how their very structure can affect their users’ work. Findings from this deeper, more extended exploration would have implications for not just data curation, preservation and management, but also for our understanding of actual, situated information organization practices and needs in science: designing for actual practice rather than for unrealistic idealization of these practices and needs. We draw inspiration, and our title, from Brand’s highly influential book; “How Buildings Learn” (1995). We believe many of the topics Brand discusses regarding buildings’ change and growth over time might usefully be applied to certain aspects of databases.