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Computer Database printing. Why I don't. Why you shouldn't.

If you've done much reading on this site, you know that I have donated my techie skills to several schools. In the process, I have uncovered a fair number of situations in which databases could be valuable tools to save time and manage information. But this will not happen without a clear understanding of what the database can do and some SERIOUS rethinking about how a computer user gets work done.

Through a series of real life tales, I will explain why you, only very selectively, print an entire database. Don't get me wrong. There are some very compelling reasons for printing from a database. I print labels. I print reports. I print selected records even. BUT I DO NOT print an entire database, nor should you.

1. Good databases are always changing

The first big database project I did for a school was a database to catalogue their software collection. There were a small number of titles available. As time went buy the parent volunteers grew this collection substantially. Eventually the collection numbered in the hundreds. It would be a terrible waste of paper to print this collection. On a monthly basis, new titles were contributed. The printed database immediately becomes outdated.

The digital copy of the database was easily kept current by the parent volunteers or the library staff. A printed database could be searched by title because it was in alphabetical order by title. But it could not be searched by age, description, author/company, platform, number, ... you get the idea.

2. Good databases facilitate searching.

Once you print a database it is fixed in that format and that order. To locate a record the user must leaf through the pages looking for the record they want. With luck, the person who set the order of the organization of the papers chose criteria that made the search simple. But there is not much luck in printed databases. Think of the times you have searched for something in the a business phone number directory. If your criteria does not match the placement assigned by the print directory creator, you can be very frustrated. Example: Garden vrs. Landscape vrs. Horticulture vrs. Plants.

A digital database allows the user to search using one or more criteria. Popup menus and value lists can add even more efficiency to a search. Search engines are simply a doorway to use to search the massive database of the Internet.

You would not want to print an Internet search engine's database, believe me! (NetCraft reports that as of 2007 there are 149,784,002 web sites.)

3. Good databases can create subsets by the users criteria.

Consider the software titles database I described earlier. Suppose a 4th grade teacher would like to see what titles would be relevant to a unit on nature study. Our database had popup menus to choose science and another for grade. Rather than paging through all the pages for 4th grade or science, she can just set the two criteria and view the results in a click.

This may seem like a small convenience. So consider a science fair with students from 7 elementary schools plus local home schoolers and the town's parochial school invited to participate. There are hundreds of kids involved. The event is organized by grade. The PTO of each school would like a report of the name, subject, and result for their students. This is easily accomplished using a find or report feature in the database.

4. Good databases will empower you.

I see your skepticism. Oh Ye of little faith. Explore what a computer based database can do to save you time and improve your life and work.


Make your own labels | Make a Certificate for each person | Manage an event with many participants

Track the value of your Book/Music/DVD collection | Sort volunteers

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©2001 Cynthia O'Hora All rights reserved. Posted 1/2001 The material in this site is copyrighted and may not be reproduced or distributed, in whole or in part, without the prior written permission of Cynthia O'Hora. This site is an entirely volunteer effort. I am not associated with Apple Computers or any of its subsidiaries.