- What is the Living Collections Database?
- Search the database
- History of the database
- Modern Day
- Future development
The Living Collections (LivColl) Database is a database containing records of every living specimen present in Kew and Wakehurst, and all of those from the past for which we have records. These specimens are known as accessions. At present the LivColl system contains details of over 178,000 separate accessions, with more being added every day. The database holds a wide range of information about each accession, split into 5 general categories;
- Curation data - a plant's location in the gardens, curation notes for gardening staff, and CITES restrictions
- Collection data - Who collected/donated the specimen to Kew, and whereabouts in the world it was found.
- Cultivation data - Includes information about the physical condition of a plant, and more notes for Kew gardeners.
- Taxonomic data - A range of taxonomic infomation including synonyms, common names, and range information.
- Scientific data - Includes info about scientific analysis of the specimen, such as anatomical, biochemical and genetic data.
The LivColl database also provides Kew staff with a provides a range of search facilities, and a variety of tools allowing them maintain an accurate and up-to-date catalogue of the entire living collection.
It is possible to search the living collections database through Kew's ePIC project. ePIC (electronic Plant Information Centre) is a web-based search facility thorough which users world-wide can search through a wide range of Kew's digitised information. The ePIC project can be found at www.kew.org/epic/
In the future we plan a dedicated LivColl search facility to display a much wider range of information about the Collection on the internet.
The first reliable record of plants received at Kew dates back to 9 June 1793, when the information was recorded by hand in ledger books. At this time, the French Revolution was under way, and George Washington was President of the United States.
In 1840 Kew became an official Botanic Garden and as such the management and curation of the collection required a more detailed catalogue. A card index system was devised to record all incoming plants, a system used for the next 120 years.
In the late 1960's it was decided to develop a computerised record system. Record cards were filled in at Kew and posted to Guildford where the information was entered onto a mainframe computer. Stock-checking all of Kew's plant material and assigning individual accession numbers to each specimen took until 1975. At this point it became possible for staff curating the collection to request broad information regarding Kew's specimens. Queries such as "How many specimens of the Genus Ilex does Kew have?" could be definitively answered. Though it could take up to 6 weeks to receive the print-out from Guildford, this was considered a rapid response at the time.
Kew acquired it's first on-site mini computer in January 1983. All of the information held at Guildford was transferred to this computer, along with all the information held on record cards here at Kew. In April 1985 direct entry of new accessions onto this system became possible. Curatorial staff would fill in sheets detailing new specimens and send them to the Records Unit for entry.
Over the next 20 years Kew's Living Collection was stored and managed using increasingly sophisticated technology. In 1992 a system was installed using PACE software that allowed staff outside the Records Unit to query the database and maintain the records. By 1997, modern PCs had replaced the now obsolete terminals and a client/server system was developed using a database system known as Universe with a Microsoft Visual Basic front-end. In August 2004 this system was transferred onto a Sybase database to bring it into line with Kew's other large systems and in preparation for future work.
Using our current system, any staff member can answer the question "How many specimens of the Genus Ilex does Kew have?" in a few seconds.
The next adaptation we plan to make to the LivColl database is to completely digitise the new accessioning process, allowing Kew curational staff to submit new information over our network, and removing the paper element of this process entirely.
In the longer term, we also plan to display a more complete range of information about the collection on the internet.
We welcome your comments regarding the Living Collections database.