, Bar Codes in tracking samples

Mon Aug 7 21:31:22 CDT 1995

Dear Taxonomists,

My goodness, one would think that bar codes are a nasty item and
something to avoid given the bizarre comments of the past 24 hrs.  As a
point of fact, all a bar code represents is a unique number.  Libraries
are now bar coding their books so that incoming and outgoing loans are
easily tracked and the database maintained.  The bar code on a library
book is merely its unique LC code and the same as etched on the spine
of the book.  Because most libraries have computerized catalogues these
days, its makes sense to make life easier for the librarians.  All they
have to do is scan the code and a returned book is logged in, and then

There is no reason why museum specimens could not be similarly treated.
Types and other specimens usually have a unique number, this can be
converted to bar code.  Again incoming and outgoing specimens can be
easily tracked; loan sheets can be printed by a laser printer with the
bar codes on it; the person who receives the loan signs it, and returns
a copy that is scanned upon return and the tracking information is
logged into the database.  I could envision a situation where loans
coming to end of term could be readily identified by a tickler program
or something that would alert the curatorial assistants to remind the
scientist to extend or return the loan.  All these tools do is make
life easier and allow the few individuals working in museum collections
to be more efficient in their work.

Use of sample tracking software (and bar codes) has been in use in
federal programs for quite some time.  Precise sample tracking is
required in any project that involves potentially hazardous materials;
or where strict quality assurance of data is important.  Note the lack
of QA by the LAPD in tracking of OJ's blood sample.

My point is, that a very sophisticated, yet simple to use technology
exists that could be used to assist museum staff in the logging and
tracking of specimens.  With most museums now computerizing their
catalogues, the addition of sample tracking procedures is only one more

Obviously, there may be technical problems with putting such labels
inside of jars with alcohol; associating them with small pinned
insects; or dry stored molluscs in little boxes.  Given all that we
have achieved in recent years, including the ability to send this
e-mail message, I am sure that someone will come up with convienent
solutions to those problems.

Jim Blake
ENSR, 89 Water Street
Woods Hole, MA 02543

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