Databases for Heritage Professionals Workshop

Why databases are important for heritage professionals

Most of the information you keep about your collections, and the items in your collections, should be stored in a database. Also, the records concerning the procedures used in the organisation should be recorded into a database to ensure that the process of management and administration is more effective. It is not possible for organisations managing collections to avoid some form of data capture and data management, and there are a range of best practices for this.

Some organisations may opt to purchase a Collection Management System (referred to as a “CMS”), such as our own ETHER Base system, and to use it as it stands. Others may prefer to build their own, perhaps to understand their requirements better prior to selecting the right CMS for their needs. It is not best practice to use Microsoft Word or Excel for this purpose, and it is best to use a database management system (DMBS) such as Microsoft Access or OpenOffice Base. However, most heritage professionals find that these are quite difficult to use and understand and are thus only using a small part of the functionality of these tools. Most organisations who decide to use Access, for example, are using them in much the same way that they will use Excel or other spreadsheet programmes. More advanced institutions will use a larger-scale database management system, such as SQL Server, Oracle, or MySQL, but these all require a separate application to use these, and again Microsoft Access and OpenOffice Base are suitable as front-end applications into a back-end corporate database system. In all cases the knowledge of what databases are, and how to use them to manage the data of the organisation, is an essential element of the modern heritage organisation.

This workshop introduces best-practice database principles using Microsoft Access, with the possibility of also using OpenOffice Base as required. This is an introductory course and does not require prior knowledge of databases, although a good working knowledge of Windows will be required.

Who should attend

This workshop is recommended for everyone in organisations who are required to manage and use data as a part of their work. We take the position that database knowledge is an essential and core element of the skills required from all heritage professionals.

Topics to be covered

This is a three-day practical workshop, which deals with both the theory and practices of modern database management using desktop-tools such as Microsoft Access and OpenOffice Base.

The following topics will be included into the programme:

  • what are databases
  • how to structure your data into tables and fields
  • defining relationships between tables – the notion of keys and the importance of primary and foreign keys
  • the nature of data types, and how to select the right data type for fields – how to maintain data coding standards
  • building checks into the data to improve data quality
  • using forms to capture and view data
  • using filters to select data
  • queries using the query designers, examples of simple and complex queries
  • creating reports
  • splitting the database into front-end and back-end parts to support multi-user access to a single database containing all corporate data
  • backup and restore of databases


The activities for this course will involve practical work concerning the databases provided with the course for training purposes, as well as review of your own databases within the time available. The practical exercises will include the following:

  • design and construction of a new database from scratch, using a relevant example from heritage requirements – this to be decided in groups
  • creating data management forms for capture and review of the data
  • building queries from the data for simple and complex requirements
  • examining your own databases to reflect on best practices and what can be done to modify these
  • building reports for the database for common and ad hoc reporting requirements


By the end of this course the delegate should have sufficient knowledge to meet the basic computer literacy requirements as are documented in national and international standards.

Further courses will deal with the programming of the databases using the internal programming languages available, and how to build comprehensive database systems for the corporate requirements.

 Where this course is held

This course is normally held at our training centre in Champagne Castle area of the Drakensberg. This is about 4 hours from Johannesburg and about 2.5 hours from Durban. At this venue the accommodation and the meals are included, subject to a maximum of 14 people attending. All accommodation here is shared, and should individuals require individual rooms this can be arranged at an extra cost from guest houses in the vicinity.

We are also planning to run this throughout the country, and will be able to schedule this to meet your needs.


Please check our Workshops Pricing and Booking Processes page for further information.

Comments from Database Workshop participants:

“I found it very helpful that the presenter knows about museums and museum function” — Jan ven den Bos (Distong: National Museum of Cultural History)

“I received answers to most of the uncertainties I had. It met my expectation, thanks!” — Annemarie van Zyl (Afrikaans Taal Museum)