Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Coin database formats

The Vatican Library's coin collection is coming online, with photographs. Many papal coins and medals are already viewable. The Vatican has chosen to use MARC 21 as their metadata format.

A coin database needs fields for the attributes that can be searched. Sebastian Heath and Andrew Meadows have created the Numismatic Metadata Project to determine the ideal fields for numismatic metadata.

Existing databases, like the Moneta, ISEGRIM, and Tantalus Coins (no direct link to their database format) use whatever fields the authors and users wanted.

For librarians and computer scientists this is a problem. It makes it difficult to combine databases when the fields have slightly different meanings. I wish Heath and Meadows success in uniting the field with a single proposal with strictly defined meanings for each field.

Achieving concensus on design is difficult because different users expect different things. For example, I often use coin databases to identify coins from partial inscriptions. I'd like a numismatic database to contain information on individual letter characteristics, such as serif vs. sans-serif, and orientation (vertical, horizontal, clockwise, etc.) Most users won't want to even see that on the screen - so why put it in the database?

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