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Become the Expert
Inventory Fundamentals - Lesson 3
Tools to Help you Inventory Everything
      No one can remember everything that is in a costume or prop / sets collection.  In order for the collection to be an asset to the theatre - the contents of the collections need to be known by the directors, costume shop managers, costume designers, props / sets managers and everyone who helps them.  
     The collection will change constantly as new items are added, items are damaged and removed, clothing can be resized, items rented out.  A good manager needs to be able to easily and accurately update the status of costumes and props /sets.  They may not know where everything is at the moment but they need a way to look it up quickly.
There are several ways to keep track of the collection:

1) The “Notebook” - A handwritten record kept in a binder is a good start but it has a lot of limitations.

    1.    Easy to write data in - no special equipment or training necessary    
    2.    Least expensive option to hold the data
    1.    Hard to keep the data up-to-date (Did you update which productions the costume was used in? Did you update who borrowed a few costumes?)
    2.    Easy to misplace    
    3.    Requires hand entries and hand counting to calculate the number of costumes you have, how many vests, how many cowboy hats, etc.
    4.    Only one person can use the notebook at a time
    5.    If several people enter the data it may not be entered consistently


2) Spreadsheets - a simple Excel spreadsheet can be used to enter costume records.

Each column represents a piece of data about the costumes in this spreadsheet.  Each row represents a single costume piece.  

    1.    Spreadsheet software easy to use and inexpensive
    2.    Spreadsheets can be used on many platforms (PC, Mac)
    3.    Easy to read data in columns and rows
    4.    Easy to search on a single criteria
    1.    Does not allow for complex searches or reports
    2.    Easy to damage data with incorrect sorting
    3.    Viewing format not as straightforward as a database form
    4.    Only one person at a time can view, print reports, add or edit costume records     
    5.    Embedding photos can distort the rows, linking photos difficult
    6.    Each data item - such Location or CostumeType needs to be typed in or Copied/Pasted from a previous record - which can lead to errors.
    7.    Requires additional skills to create lookups and calculations


3) Database - Databases offer many features that make your data collection easy to manage, more complete and accurate but they require special software.  You use databases everyday - iTunes and Amazon are very large databases with many millions of records.  You do searches, view items and (if you buy something) get a report (receipt.)

    A database is a highly structured file made up tables (that store data) and the tools necessary to add records, view and edit data, search for records and print reports.  Those tools are data entry forms, reports and programming code (that you don’t see.) The database allows you to store data in an easy-to-use and efficient manner. 

    Each table holds data for one type of information - costume pieces, colors, costume types, etc.  The tables are linked together by the application so the forms and reports show all the information together.  Here is a diagram that shows some of the tables that store data for the Costume Piece record.

Here is what the data in the Costume Piece table looks like:

Here are a few records from the Costume Types table looks like:

    The Costume Piece record contains only text in some fields and stores an ID number like CostumeTypeID in other fields.  

    When the tables are linked - the word that matches the CostumeTypeID is shown on the form and on the reports.     
    The data entry form below has lookup fields (drop-down boxes) that show you the list of Costumes Types available.  Don’t worry - you don’t have to remember the Costume Type ID’s.  It makes it a very efficient way to enter and store the data.  It also makes the data entry more consistent.  (How many of you know how to spell “Cummerbund” ??)

    If you had a basic spreadsheet you would have to type in the name of each costume type, color, storage location for every costume piece you entered - a lot of work !

In this data entry form you can see the fields for the Costume Piece record.  The Costume and Costume Description fields hold data that you type in.  The Costume Type, Color, Group/Category fields are dropdown boxes with data from the related tables (Costume Type, Color, etc.).  You can select the data that most describes your item.

As with hand written notebooks and spreadsheets there are Pros and Cons.  For Database applications:

    1.    Allows for faster data entry (lookup tables, copying records)
    2.    Photos easy to import or link and can be viewed/printed at the same time as the costume record
    3.    Searches can be performed on multiple criteria.  Data can be sorted easily.
    4.    Better reports with photos, easy data selection,  easy-to-read formatting and calculations
    5.    Multiple people can view, print reports, add or edit costume records at the same time on a shared network
    6.    Easy to share reports with others by email or website
    7.    Connect multiple records together for Ensembles, Productions, Rentals

    8.    Perform functions on single or multiple records (Update Current Location or Storage Location for multiple records.
    1.    More complex to use than a spreadsheet
    2.    Requires special software
    3.    Fewer platforms run database software (not all databases are available to run on Macs - difficult to host on the web)
    4.    It can be the most costly of the systems but has the greatest value.


Other notes on Databases:

1)   Data entry forms - like the one above - has buttons on the screen that allow the user to do many things with the data.  Some examples are “Add New Record”, “Copy a Record”, “Print”, etc.  The buttons (with the programming code behind it) make it easy for users to know what options they have and to do them with minimal mistakes.

The functions relate to the buttons on the screen.  These include:
1.  Add Costume
2.  Copy Costume
3.  Print Costume Record
4.  View/Update Costume Current Location
5.  Load a photo, Delete Photo, View Full Sceen
6.  Go to the Utilities screen (to update lookup tables)
There is also a Delete Costume Piece button but it isn't shown in this photo.

2) Search - Data entry forms can have Search features built in to allow the user to find a record quickly and easily.  Additional Search forms can offer the user many options to find one or more records that they want to see.

 In this example you can search for all the costume pieces that meet one or more criteria.  You can search for Black Tank Tops for Adults.    

You can see there are 9 Tank Tops in several sizes.
3.  Reports: With databases you can print many reports - with and without photos to help you understand what you have in your collection.  Here are a few Costume Reports you can print:
For example: If you wanted a list of everything in one storage location you could select the Storage Location in the form above and print the following report.

What have you added to your binder?

  • There are no downloads for this lesson but hopefully you took notes - which you can add to your binder.


What’s next ?

    Lesson 4:  Unique Identifiers - Placing a unique identifier on each item - how and why

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