eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Throwback Thursdays – How Databases Were Built, Circa Early 1980s, Part 3

In the last couple of Throwback Thursday posts we covered the first stages in a database-building project (circa 1980), including designing and planning a database, preparing for a project, establishing an archive, coding and qc, and production status record keeping. The next steps are described here.  But first, if you missed the earlier posts in this series, they can be found here, here, here, here, here and here.

Batching and Keying: After coding and quality control, the next step was batching the coding forms. An archive librarian removed completed coding forms from folders, ‘batched them into groups, updated the activity log, and packaged the forms for shipping.  The packaged forms were shipped off to a keypunch vendor – usually located outside of the U.S.  The vendor I worked for used a keying company located in Jamaica. The vendor keyed the information from the forms to magnetic computer tapes (see the image above). Those tapes and the coding forms were then shipped back to the coding vendor.  Depending on the size of the batch, keying could take days.  And there was shipping time on each end.  It could take a week or more to get data back for large batches.

Data Loading:  As I mentioned in an earlier post, for the most part, databases ‘lived’ on a vendor’s mainframe computer and were accessed by clients using computer terminals.  When the vendor received tapes from a keypunch vendor, the next step was loading to its mainframe computer.

End-User Training:  While this still happens today, training was a much bigger deal back in the day.  The normal business person was not computer literate – most of our clients had never used a computer before.  Training usually took a day or two, and it involved educating users on how to do searches, on how databases were structured, and on how data was coded in a specific database.

A word on schedules:  Today we live in a world where everything is done almost immediately.  Once documents are collected, processed and loaded (all of which can happen pretty quickly), documents are available for searching.  With initial databases, it usually took months before the first documents were available for searching.  Every step in the process (photocopying, archive establishment, coding, qc, batching, and keying ) took days or weeks.  Of course we didn’t wait for a step to be completed for all the documents before starting the next step, but even so, it was a long time before the first documents were available for searching.

A word on backups:  In the electronic world we live in today, we rely on computer backups…  and we do them frequently.  Even if there’s a significant technical problem, we can usually go to a fairly recent backup without too much work being lost.  This was always a concern with initial database projects.  Our law firm clients usually didn’t send us the ‘original working copy’ of a document collection.  They had a second copy made for the database work.  But a lot of work was done and a lot of time elapsed between delivery of those documents and data being available in the database.  Problems like fire, flooding, and packages lost in shipping could mean lost work.  And those things happened on occasion.

In next week’s post, we’ll take a look at how databases were used, and how searching and document retrieval worked.

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