For those who don’t already know, I’m a Police Dispatcher by day, a mother, and I take classes through the college where I work. I’m currently studying Programming and Analysis. It’s very slow going, because I take a maximum of six credit hours a semester. Anything more than that would be overwhelming.
One of my classes during fall semester has been a Database Management class. It’s not “fun” exactly, but it’s interesting, and while it doesn’t deal directly with Microsoft Access (we use a frustrating program called “MySQL” – Oracle) I have been looking through Access more, and understanding it better.
So I volunteered to make a new database to log the items people report missing. Up to this point, we’ve had databases for everything under the sun – keys, items that enter the lost and found, a log of cars left on campus – but the people who come in to report their items missing signed a paper book, and when items come in, we look through that paper book and attempt to match the items found to the items missing.
It’s not easy. The handwriting can be barely legible. The pages are in a bizarre order where the most recent is in the front, but the oldest item is at the top, and sometimes the pages are out of order. You have to make a judgment call on how far back to look – do we go a day or two, or a week, or a month?
So I’ve started making this database to log in the things people report missing. It includes the type of item, the description, the place they think they lost the item, their last and first names, and a way to contact that person. Ever the optimist, I added a check-box for items that have been found, whether by us or by the owner, and a place for comments that may include the property number of the found item if we’ve actually matched up our found stuff to the lost stuff. That doesn’t happen as often as we’d like.
The point of all of this is to make it easier to quickly find a missing item that matches the description of an item that has come in to the station.
I can only work on this data entry for a while, even on a slow day, before I start to get a headache from deciphering some of the handwriting, and looking back and forth between the written log book and the computer screen. I’ve entered about 300 things, with about another 100 to go, because I decided to do the entire year. (Doing so can give us some insight into where people tend to lose stuff, what types of things people tend to lose, etc.)
Some of the writing can’t be deciphered. I’m just guessing, and it doesn’t matter too much, because if something someone reported missing four months ago hasn’t made it in yet, it probably won’t.
What gets me is when people come in to report something missing, but somehow never quite get around to saying what it is they’ve lost. We’ll get descriptions like “black, round, not sure what brand.” Okay. that’s helpful. We’ll be sure to call you the next time something round and black comes into the station.
Then there are the people who write out what they have lost: “Black Texas Instruments TI-83 Calculator” but where did they lose it, so we can be sure it’s the correct calculator when quite a few people have also lost Texas Instruments TI-83 calculators? You answered “in class” for where you lost it. Okay. Which class? This isn’t a huge campus, but we have lots of buildings with lots of classrooms, and you’re asking us to guess?
We’ll call you at that point, and ask you where your classroom is, to try to screen and see if it’s yours. Oh, wait, you didn’t leave your phone number. Or your last name. Oops.
But my absolute favorite entries were on the same page. One listed “Biology Department” under the category of item missing. Really? You lost the entire Biology Department? How did you manage that? We’ll be sure to call you if it turns up.
Two spaces down, someone put their name in the “item lost” category. Their name and their phone number was all that was listed. I suppose he lost himself? That can happen in college. But that’s an existential crisis, not a matter for Lost and Found. Would you like the number for the School Counselor?