Looking at the soft underbelly of one of our databases this afternoon. The “Privy Council Papers” site is a catalogue of appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and provides information about British Empire and Commonwealth law that’s unavailable elsewhere. We’re working on a modest expansion of the metadata of this dataset, adding some more comprehensive fields and tidying up a few idosyncracies. A student intern is being employed to work on the data, whilst our team provides the new fields and other changes in the database itself. The project is overseen and coordinated by Nandini Chatterjee, the database was developed in part by Tom Rosenbloom, and is now maintained and updated by Sam Wise.
It’s a good lesson in sustainability of data, as no matter how ‘final’ a dataset seems, it always has the potential to spring into life again. Here, there is an impetus from the resource being used for teaching and the added information will ensure a more usable resource for our students, but in other cases, data can be put to completely new and unanticipated purposes. Whilst the creation of data must always answer the immediate needs, it’s worthwhile thinking about other uses from the start, and planning the database in that way – here, we are having to construct data entry forms and make changes that would have been simpler, had the database been planned slightly differently. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!