Agents

Agents are people, organizations, or groups that perform actions. Collectors are agents, authors of publications are agents, users of specimens are agents, and, if you enter or edit data, you are an agent. A single agent can have many roles and many names.

No matter how many roles or names an agent has, a single person (or agency) should be in the database only once. Before new agent records are created, the database should be carefully queried to check that the “new” agent is not already in the database. A collector may have married and now be submitting specimens as collected under her married name, for example.

Agents with non-English names may exist in the database under alternative transliterations. (Felix Chernyavski’s name is published in English as Tchernyavski and Chernyavsky.) In these cases, additional Agent Names are required, not additional Agents. Additional names using original alphabet of the agent’s name are an obvious clarification. (Cyrillic, in the example above.)

For legacy data, the above is a difficult standard. Are Robert Smith, R. Smith, and Bob Smith three agents or one? Sometimes, the activities already recorded for an agent makes the answer clear, e.g., there were probably not two Eleazer Fitzgarrolds collecting grasshoppers in northern Madagascar in the 1930s. (If you are viewing a an agent record, the “Agent Activity” link will show you all of the agent’s actions that are recorded.) Thus, it is useful to provide as much information as possible when creating and editing agent records. If you can figure it out, the database can usefully handle the information. If you cannot figure it out it probably doesn’t matter; having multiple agents collecting under the name “J. Smith” doesn’t really affect any conceivable use of the data, and if one of the agents distinguishes themselves somehow (e.g., through publications), it’s easy to split the combined agent.

Use the Agent “unknown” when the person or organization doing the collecting, identifying, borrowing, etc. is unknown or unclear. Please do not create new Agents such as “Collector unknown” or “Determiner unknown”. Consider using “unknown” along with the verbatim collector attribute rather than creating cryptic agents such as A.B.C. or S. Smith. If at some point in the future the full name of collector, determiner, or borrower S. Smith is determined to be Susan B. Smith for a specific set of records, add the full Agent name to Arctos and assign the records appropriately.

Agent Type

Agent . Agent_Type VARCHAR2(15) not null

Agent Type is controlled by a code table.

Person

Data about a person-agent can include first, middle, and last names (and must include at least one “person name”). Prefix and Suffix (formerly singular attributes of persons) are now embedded in agent names and should not be viewed as static. (Prefix and suffix should seldom be included in preferred name.) For example, the following might all apply to one agent:

See Wikipedia: Generational Titles for more information.

Former concepts Birth Date and Death Date have now been generalized to Agent Status. In addition to recording singular events about an agent (such as birth date), this structure allows “snapshots” – “AgentX was seen at a conference on {DATE} and seemed to be living, so things collected before that date may still be attributable to AgentX.”

Organizations

Examples of organizations include:

Agencies can have hierarchical relationships, e.g.:

For most purposes, person agents are more explicit and preferable to organizations; designations such “U.S. Department of the Interior” are next to useless. Nevertheless within a hierarchy of agencies, the more explicit the designation, the more ephemeral the designation is likely to be.

Groups

A group is two or more agents functioning in some named capacity. So, instead of listing several collectors on an expedition, one might make all the collectors members of something like the “1994 Swedish-Russian Tundra Ecology Expedition.”

Agent Groups consists of:

  1. An agent of type=group, and optionally
  2. person agents as group members

Groups may be useful for things like collecting expeditions.

Verbatim Collectors

Verbatim Collectors as Agents is a failed experiment and should not be used for any purpose. Please change verbatim collectors to another type of agent or flag them as duplicates when you encounter them. Attribute “verbatim collector” allows uncontrolled strings to be associated with individual specimens. When “bad duplicate of” agents are merged, “verbatim collector” Attributes are automatically created for all affected specimens.

Names

Agent_Name . Agent_Name VARCHAR2(184) not null

All agents must have one and only one “preferred name”. An agent can have any number of other names.

Name Type

Agent_Name . Agent_Name_Type VARCHAR2(18) not null

Agent Name Type, e.g. “preferred,” is controlled by a code table.

Remarks

Agent . Agent_Remark VARCHAR2(255) null

Remarks is a good place to include a one sentence description of the agent. Anything that might helpful to other users in understanding who or what the agent is should be included. Never use remarks for data which can be linked or formalized elsewhere.

Creating & Maintaining Agents

These are general guidelines to prevent the creation of duplicate agents. Nothing here should be considered a hard rule; use the Contact form at the bottom of any Arctos page to discuss these guidelines.

Before creating an agent, thoroughly search for existence. Use the “clear form” button to ensure that you aren’t accidentally limiting your search. Using only the “any part of any name” option, search for last name, and especially in the case of “foreign” names, search for the substring that might have been transcribed or transliterated in varying ways. If you have a “McDonald,” search for “donald” to include the possibility of “Macdonald.” Given Чернявских, search for “herny” to include Chernyavski, Tchernyavski, and Chernyavsky. (Please flag any “bad duplicate” agents you find as such during this exploration.) Consider common variations – a “Robert” might exist as “Bob,” for example.

Consider not creating an agent at all. Attribute “verbatim collector” exists in part for linking ambiguous or low-value collector strings to specimens, and may be an appropriate choice if the agent is relatively unknown, unlikely to become known, and has no or little other activity. For example, “fisherman” is almost certainly better recorded in Attributes.

Abbreviation Exemptions

Agent Relationships

Relationships between agents can be recorded. Like date of birth and date of death, relationships can be critical to understanding duplication and similarities in names, and in understanding relationships within the literature, taxonomic opinions, etc. The pull-downs are self-evident. If you know of a relationship between agents, please record it. The relationship “not the same as” can be useful in understanding that suspiciously similar names are not duplicates, but do in fact refer to separate agents.

Different Agent, Same Name

Occasionally, two distinct agents will share a name, but there exists a unique key on preferred_name so duplicate preferred names are not possible. With some research, it is usually possible to disambiguate the agents by adding initials, middle names, or nicknames. If that is not possible, it may be necessary to add parenthetical information to the preferred name, for example “John Doe (southwest mammals).” When this is necessary, it’s usually preferable to similarly annotate all agents that share the name to avoid later data entry efforts inadvertently picking the wrong agent. Add a “not the same as” relationship and verbose agent remarks.

Without the unique key, applications which use strings to identify agents, such as the specimen bulkloader, cannot use preferred names, and it becomes necessary to add unique aliases to pick agents. (Internal forms pick by agent_id and names are only “human-readable proxies” to the ID.) The current unique index approach seems less problematic than the alternative, both in getting students to choose the correct agent and in avoiding duplicate agent creation, but neither method is ideal. Address any suggestions or concerns to the Arctos discussion group.

Searching Agents

The search form contains several fields and options, detailed below. All are case-insensitive substring matches. You may also include the special characters _ and % to match any single character or any string, respectively.

Any part of a name is appropriate for most exploratory searching. It matches any name, including preferred, AKAs, name components, and login name.

Agent Type

Agent Type matches values used in the code table.

Agent ID

Agent ID matches the (internal, primary key) agent_id (an integer).

Agent Name Type

Agent Name Type matches values used in a code table.

Agent Name

Agent Name matches names of the chosen type.

Address

Address matches any part of any address, including mailing addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses.

Agent Status

Agent Status matches values from a code table. This may be combined with “Match” and Status Date to locate agents reported in an event, agents having an event on a date, or events happening on, before, or after a given date.

Created By

Created By (and corresponding match types and Created Date) may be used to find agents created by an agent, agents created by an agent on/before/after a date, or agents created on/before/after a date.

Deleting/merging agents

Duplicate agents (>1 agent record referring to the same agent entity) prevent accurate answers to questions involving agents. Collector “John Smith” cannot locate “his” specimens if some of them are stored under agent “J. Smith.”

How To

To delete an agent, create a “bad duplicate of” relationship to another agent. All collections will receive a warning email, and if no action is taken the agent will be automatically deleted in 14 days (previously 7).

Check collection contacts and their email addresses if you are not receiving notifications.

Generally, the record with least complete information and/or the least activity should be the “bad duplicate of.” Any useful information (such as names, remarks or addresses) must be transcribed to the “good” agent. The deletion process does not retain agent names or remarks, addresses are copied only when they are used in shipments. Manually copy anything that seems important to the merged agent; avoid copying anything which might cause confusion (and the introduction of more duplicates) in the future.

Why

Any Operator with Agent access may flag agents as duplicates. Agents lacking evidence to the contrary should be marked as duplicates; if there is evidence of useful individuality, add it by way of relationships and supporting remarks. Often, low-quality Agents not representing an individual are expedient; there is little reason to have two “J. Smith” (no other information) agents; if disambiguating information is available, add it.

Identical Agent Names

Identical agent names, between and among agents, is different than identical agents. Duplicate agents are two or more agent records that mean the same physical entity (THAT PARTICULAR John Smith; US Fish and Wildlife Service). It is not necessary for duplicate agents to share a name; in fact, they are often introduced because of misspellings. The “Agent Activity” link is a good place to make sure you’re dealing with real duplicates.

Not Duplicates

Occasionally, it will be determined that two agents are not in fact duplicates. The only action that will stop future attempts to merge them is a “not the same as” relationship. Document the relationship in remarks, but do not try to build functionality into remarks.