History of Development
The following, brief history of the development of BG-BASE shows the steady growth of the system from its inception in 1985 to the present day and demonstrates its user-driven nature. There has been a constant evolution of the system, based on creative input from its user base; only the highlights and major system enhancements are mentioned here.
Botanic gardens and arboreta have kept records of their accessions for literally hundreds of years, initially in a
staff member's head, then in accession books and then on accession cards. However, as mainframe computers became available in the 1960s,
botanic gardens soon realized the possibilities that those new machines afforded. Given the size and cost of these mainframes, few gardens had direct access to them, so organizations such as the Plant Sciences Data Center (PSDC) of the American Horticultural Society undertook ground-breaking work to computerize many separate collections on a single, centralized mainframe. Other gardens, in the US and elsewhere, decided to go it alone. For example, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew computerized its collections in 1969, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh did so in the early 1970s (both using mainframes owned by government ministries), and the Matthaei Botanical Gardens of The University of Michigan, where the author of BG-BASE was then a student, computerized its living collections in 1972/73, an activity that was to play an important part in the development of BG-BASE some 12 years later.
1985 - Arnold Arboretum / Threatened Plants Unit
BG-BASE was initially written at the request of Dr. Peter S. Ashton, then Director of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard
University. The Arnold Arboretum has a well deserved international reputation of holding one of the best (if not the best)
documented collection of woody plants in the world, so writing a system de novo for the Arnold was a daunting task. At
that time, the Arnold was sending some of its collection information to the centralized PSDC database, but it was also keeping a
complete set of information in manual form on index cards and in accession books; this was done because the PSDC database did not
store enough information to meet the Arnold's needs and because PSDC printouts were only generated once or twice a year and
were, therefore, always out of date. Earlier, the Arnold had suffered a catastrophic hardware failure, and all data in its previous
database system (specially written for them) was lost, so from the earliest days, BG-BASE was designed for
stability and resiliency; also BG-BASEwas put on the new Novell Local Area Network where all of its data were - and
still are - backed up daily.
In the same year that Arnold Arboretum requested a new database (1985), one of us (KSW) was approached
by the Threatened Plants Unit of the Conservation Monitoring Centre (CMC, now the United Nations Environment Programme -
World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), a subset of which broke off to become BGCI, Botanic Gardens Conservation International).
TPU's interests were in a small easily understood system that could be used by smaller botanic gardens; this system had to be
based on the then-emerging International Transfer Format for Botanic Garden Records (ITF). BG-BASE
was thus conceived as a tool that would work in both multi-user and stand-alone situations and that would be scalable, working in both
large and small institutions. Also, there has been a commitment from its earliest days that BG-BASE would be compatible
with all applicable international standards.
Although much of the initial work was done to support management of living collections, other aspects of an
institution's overall information management needs were addressed from the outset. The Arnold Arboretum also had an active adult
education program of 8,000 enrollments in 120 courses. Students were charged different rates depending upon their membership status,
and therefore the Arnold needed a way to link its education programs to its membership programs. These functions, too, became part
of BG-BASE from its earliest days, and the system was written in such a way that it handled
both "people" and "plant" data, with tight integration between the parts.
The Education Module of BG-BASE came on line in 1986, along with the beginnings
of the Living Collections Module. By today's standards, the early BG-BASE design
was delightfully simple - a total of 12 database tables constituted the Living Collections Module a module that today has grown to
encompass over one hundred tables.
An overview of the development of BG-BASEto meet the demanding needs of the Arnold Arboretum was written as part of a
special issue of Arnoldia devoted entirely to the management practices employed at the Arnold Arboretum to manage its extensive collections.
1987 - Center for Plant Conservation (CPC)
Beginning in 1987/88, other institutional members of the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC), which was then housed at the
Arnold Arboretum, learned of the work being done to computerize the plant records of the Arnold Arboretum, and they began to adopt this
system to manage their records as well. By 1988, there were 14 users of the system.
Plants vs. accessions
Version 2 of BG-BASE, released in 1987, made a significant change to the existing table structure. The information about individual plants, their locations, and their health had been tracked in the ACCESSIONS table in version 1. With version 2, the PLANTS table appeared, giving users the ability to track the history of their collections as well as the current condition of those collections.
At about the same time, the Arnold Arboretum began to link its data in BG-BASE to a computerized mapping system based on AutoCAD. Shortly afterwards, the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania undertook a similar endeavor, leading to the development of BG-Map, which has become the standard mapping tool used with BG-BASE.
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE)
In 1990, BG-BASE was installed at the Royal Botanic
Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) This venerable institution dating from 1670 maintains the largest living collection yet managed
by BG-BASE. This was also the first large non-US garden to adopt the system, and practices and procedures uncommon
or unknown in US gardens needed to be catered for. Some of the notable influences that RBGE has had on the
growth and functionality of BG-BASE include 1) the QUARANTINES table; 2) the procedures for requesting
and performing VERIFICATIONS; 3) tracking of GERMPLASM, including frozen seed, spores, and extracted DNA;
4) read-only (vs. full read/write) access to BG-BASE; 5) a public access interface; and 6) the LOANS and LOAN_ITEMS portions of the Preserved Collections Module. The International Conifer Conservation Programme of the RBGE has also played a crucial role in helping to develop BG-BASE's ability to track individual genotypes within the living collections.
RBGE also needed to link its four sites across Scotland back to the centralized plant records office in Edinburgh. This ability to manage data over a distance was later utilized by the Fairchild Tropical Garden and the Montgomery Foundation (now called Montgomery Botanical Center), two Miami-based institutions that were contiguous at the time and that shared a common accessioning system even though the two collections were separately numbered and curated.
With the adoption of BG-BASE by the Threatened Plants Unit (TPU) of WCMC in
1990 (moving from a Wang minicomputer system), new functionalities were required, resulting in the creation of
the Conservation module. As used by WCMC, BG-BASE now handles information (at the tim of this writing) on 116,000 taxa - over 43% of the
world's known higher (vascular) plant species, and includes 192,000 distribution records with IUCN conservation status for each taxon in
each area (Biological Recording Unit) in which it is known to occur. The information in this enormous system is backed up by a bibliographic
database (in BG-BASE's DS table) of 19,000 references relating to plant conservation, the largest such computerized
conservation bibliography in the world. Information from this table was used to generate the World Plant Conservation Bibliography.
TPU also needed the ability to track time spent on various projects, so BG-BASE's electronic calendar, developed for its Membership and Education Modules, was enhanced to handle daily timesheets for staff members.
In 1991, the Missouri Botanical Garden assisted in the installation of BG-BASE in Russia; prior to the installation, all help
screens and menus were translated from English into Russian. The installation was part of a several-day training workshop on information management
held at the Main Botanical Garden, Moscow. The 1991 installation at the Royal Botanic Garden Peradeniya, Sri Lanka highlighted the need for
multi-language support for common names and place names; the Sri Lankan installation supports English, Sinhalese and Tamil simultaneously.
In 1996, Cuban scientists translated the majority of the help screens from the Preserved Collections module into Spanish.
The QuickStart guide was translated into Spanish by colleagues using the system in Mexico in 2000, while translations into Chinese and
Hungarian were undertaken in 2001/2002. The system has now been installed in several non-English speaking countries around the world.
Annual users meetings / Advanced training seminars
By the early 1990s the user base had grown to a point where a forum for discussion was needed; the first BG-BASE users
meeting was held at the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta meeting (AABGA- now APGA) in 1991. User meetings are now held periodically
in conjunction with APGA. BG-BASE Advanced Training Seminars are also held three times a year in the U.S. and in the U.K. based on demand.
The Holden Arboretum / BG-BASE, Inc.
The Holden Arboretum, one of the largest arboreta in the world with over 3,200 acres and a long-time user of the system, became the institutional
home for BG-BASE when Mike O'Neal moved there in 1993. A separate arm for managing BG-BASE activities, BG-BASE, Inc., was established and based at the Holden, and for the first time ever, full-time staff were devoted exclusively to the support and development of BG-BASE. A regular newsletter was started, and technical Support Agreements were offered.
Revelation to Advanced Revelation
In 1993, BG-BASE was ported from its previous platform, Revelation, to its current platform, Advanced Revelation (AREV). AREV provided a much more intuitive user interface with vastly greater capabilities.
Large-scale database demands had also been critical in the choice of Revelation and Advanced Revelation by the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC) and by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). In the late 1980s, CPC received a grant from the Mellon Foundation to
explore the possibility of linking its databases with BG-BASE as well as with those of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and with
TROPICOS, developed by the Missouri Botanical Garden; all of these database systems had
independently chosen to develop database applications using Revelation/Advanced Revelation because of the
unique power and flexibility afforded by the use of variable-length fields and multivalue fields.
Further developments happened in the early 1990s when institutions began to ask for the ability to mange information on their
preserved collections and have this tightly integrated with their living collections, for which their preserved collections often served
as vouchers. This resulted in the Preserved Collections Module; while young compared to the Living
Collections Module, this module - which is fully integrated with the Living Collections Module - is being increasingly adopted by
herbaria and natural history museums.
Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) / Names of cultivated taxa
During the same period, at the request of the Royal Horticultural Society(RHS), BG-BASE was enhanced to
take into account changes in the recently published new version of the International Code of Nomenclature
of Cultivated Plants (ICNCP). Thus, BG-BASE is now able to handle virtually all names of zoological and botanical
organisms, from genus down to race (genus, species, subspecies, variety, form, etc.). Artificial taxa - those not occurring in the wild,
but resulting from artificial breeding - such as grex, cultivar and cultivar group are also handled according to the rules of the ICNCP.
Furthermore, selling names, equivalent epithets, commercial synonyms, Plant Breeders Rights names, and patented names are now handled
by the system.
RHS also led in the development of the AWARDS, AWARD.ORGANIZATIONS, and AWARD.SITES tables. In addition, to facilitate
the production of The RHS Plant Finder, listing approximately 70,000 taxa and where to find them in the nursery trade throughout Great Britain, BG-BASE was further enhanced to handle NURSERIES and NURSERY.ITEMS. RHS now uses BG-BASE to track over 100,000 taxa, making it the largest horticultural names database in the world.
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew / Micropropagation
In the mid-1990s, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew requested the ability to handle the vast
amount of information built up in their micropropagation unit over a period of many years and subsequently stored on index cards.
This resulted in the Micropropagations portion of the Propagations Module. They also adopted
BG-BASE to manage information on plant re-introduction activities
(see A Reference List for Plant Re-Introduction, Recovery Plans and Restoration Programs).
Developing a system as large as BG-BASE has become takes time, energy, and money, The Holden Arboretum was the
recipient of a US $45,000 grant from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust in 1993 for establishing a U.S. support center and for
converting BG-BASE from Revelation to Advanced Revelation. In 2001 the Trust awarded The
Holden Arboretum $57,000 to covert the system to Windows and to hire additional US support staff.
In 1995-96, at the request of the several BG-BASE sites, BG-BASE was enhanced to handle
plant maintenance information. This functionality is now available in the Living Collections Module.
Determinations of preserved specimens
In 1996, at the request of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh the Preserved Collections Module was enhanced to include the ability to link multiple determinations to a specimen as well as to allow a subset of BG-BASE to be taken into the field during collecting expeditions; these field-collected data (stored in the COLL.BOOKS table) are then cleaned up and merged with the master copy held on the institution's LAN.
Throughout the life of BG-BASE, its developers have been involved in several workshops on information technology, especially in relation to collections management. These have been held in Nanjing, China (November, 1990), Moscow, Russia (May 1991), the U.S. (several sessions), Tabasco, Mexico (June, 1994), San José, Costa Rica (October, 1994), Edinburgh, Scotland (several sessions), Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (January 1996), Pretoria and Cape Town, South Africa (September 1996), Budapest, Hungary (November 1996) and Belmopan, Belize (November, 1996 and March 1997). These workshops, while primarily aimed at teaching attendees how to best mange complex biological information about their collections, have proven to be invaluable for the further development of the system; in each workshop, we have picked up ideas for new features based on questions asked by the participants. In addition, BG-BASE has been demonstrated at each of the six International Botanic Gardens Conservation Conferences held in the Canary Islands (1985), Réunion (1989), Rio de Janeiro (1992), Perth (1995), Cape Town (1998), and Asheville (2000). These, too, have been extremely stimulating meetings that helped in the further development of the system.
Barcodes, embossed labels, engraved labels
Barcodes became a reality in 1995-96 when BG-BASE's SPECIMENS and IMAGES tables were enhanced to allow them to store - and be manipulated by - barcodes. These barcode capabilities are now also available in the GERMPLASM, PLANTS, and PROPAGATIONS tables as well. These barcodes complement the engraved labels and embossed label-generating capability that have been part of BG-BASE for many years.
Center for Marine Conservation / Animal names
BG-BASE was enhanced in 1995/96 to allow it to handle the different rules applied to zoological names (
for instance, the ability to track trinomials such as Ratus ratus ratus, which is forbidden under
the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (ICBN)). This work was partially funded by grants
from the MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the National Science Foundation and administered by the Center for Marine Conservation (CMC) in a project to develop a Caribbean-wide database of marine organisms and relevant bibliography. The differences in collection management as practiced in botanic gardens and natural history museums have been addressed through this project, and appropriate enhancements are being made to BG-BASE
USDA Germplasm Resource Information Network (GRIN)
GRIN is the data management system for the National Genetic Resources Program of the United
States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. In 1996, protocols were finalized for uploading
data from BG-BASE into GRIN. The U.S. National Arboretum became
the first BG-BASE site to upload accession and shipment information into the GRIN database, a process that will now continue on an annual basis.
Hand-held data capture devices
In 1997, Kings Park and Botanic Garden led the
enhancement of BG-BASE to allow data collection on hand-held devices incorporating barcode readers
and BG-BASE-specific menus.
In 1998, Kings Park and Botanic Garden led the the development of the DELTA module of BG-BASE; this work was
further spurred on by input from the Denver Botanic Gardens. This module allows permits the creation of user-defined characters and character states to be used in descriptions; with it you can define a set of characters (or descriptors) that you wish to code against existing records in BG-BASE. When the coding is complete, you can export the information in DELTA format so that it can be used in various on-line identification programs, key-generation programs, and natural-language description programs. DELTA is a standard adopted by the Taxonomic Databases Working Group.
Index Seminum production
In 2000, Botanisk Have of Denmark helped complete an aspect of BG-BASE that had been started many years earlier
in Russia – namely, the development of Index Seminum capabilities. This part of the system allows users to track seed requests, produce labels for seed packets and manage mailing label production.
Desiderata – requests for molecular material
Following the production of its 2001 Catalogue of Plants the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh found itself swamped with requests for material from its living and preserved collections. Increasingly, these requests came for molecular research projects. Further enhancements to BG-BASE's DESIDERATA table (originally created for the Arnold Arboretum in the late 1980s) were made so that staff could track not only the requests for material but also the approval status of those requests and their ultimate fulfillment.
Advanced Revelation to OpenInsight
Beginning in 2000 and continuing through the first nine months of 2001, BG-BASE was converted from Advanced Revelation (DOS) to OpenInsight (Windows). While Advanced Revelation was the right choice eight years ago during the last major conversion between software platforms, the time had arrived to migrate to a Windows-based system. The importance of this migration cannot be emphasized strongly enough. The technical advantages of moving from a DOS environment into a Windows environment were numerous, and (not surprisingly) institutions were becoming less-likely to install software of any type that was not Windows compatible. Furthermore, computer operating systems (most notably Windows NT and Windows 2000) were increasingly becoming less friendly towards DOS-based programs, to the extent that some functionality had actually been phased out that affected the operation of BG-BASE. OpenInsight was chosen as the next Windows-based platform for BG-BASE largely due to the fact that it was developed by Revelation Software, Inc., the same distributors of Advanced Revelation. As such, OpenInsight enjoys many of the same features and functionality that are present in Advanced Revelation. More importantly, OpenInsight continues to support both variable-length and multi-value fields, two elements critical to the design of BG-BASE.
Jardin botanique de Montréal becomes 150th user of BG-BASE
In the fall of 2002 the BG-BASE community welcomed its 150th member with the installation of the system at the
Montreal Botanical Garden.
Relocation of BG-BASE, Inc. from The Holden Arboretum to Topsham, Maine
In July of 2004, after 11 fruitful years housed at The Holden Arboretum, the US office for BG-BASE relocated 1/2 hour north of Portland to Topsham, Maine.
BG-BASE celebrates 20 years!
2005 marks the 20-year anniversary of BG-BASE!
The Botanic Gardens of Adelaide becomes 175th user of BG-BASE
In 2005 the BG-BASE community welcomed its 175th member with the installation of the system at the
Botanic Gardens of Adelaide.
BG-BASE celebrates 25 years!
2010 marks the 25-year anniversary of BG-BASE!
This brief history would not be complete without an grateful acknowledgment of the two institutions that served (and serve) as BG-BASE's international development and support centers. From 1993 to 2004, The Holden Arboretum served at the first such center, where Michael J. O'Neal was based. In 1994, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh stepped forward as another such center, and Kerry S. Walter has been based there since that time. The commitment and support of these institutions have been tremendous and unwavering. To these two institutions along with the Arnold Arboretum, its first home, BG-BASE owes a huge debt of gratitude. We also thank the Ford Foundation, the Institute of Museum Services (IMS), the MacArthur Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Plant Conservation Alliance, and the Bureau of Land Management for their financial support, either given directly to support further development of the system or given to institutions who wished to adopt the system.
Kerry S. Walter and Michael J. O'Neal