Unique Numbering of Specimens

Doug Yanega dyanega at DENR1.IGIS.UIUC.EDU
Mon Jul 31 14:32:39 CDT 1995

>Now, if a label becomes unique in the world by virtue of following that
>protocol, then the remaining issue is to design database/information
>systems that work with that characteristic uniqueness. Again, it's an
>issue of some community standards.

Yes, it is. One problem we face is that those institutions which *have*
databased their collections have not adopted a standard software, let alone
data fields. Some institutions keep little more than species and state (no
locality, no date, no gender, no host records), and this is of rather
limited utility or compatibility, even if converted into standard software.

>Gary can then not worry about whose specimens he is working with. They
>will be uniquely identified, and his database system will accommodate
>them.  Of course, if an institution loans Gary some specimens which it
>did not bother to (uniquely) label (at that only-when-handled-for-some-
>ther-reason time --e.g., loan shipping time), does Gary put his unique
>id on the specimen, does the loaning institution send Gary a bunch of
>(unique) labels and say go to it, or ....?

This is probably one of the more important aspects of the problem. My own
opinion is that *IF* Gary (or whomever) is keeping a computer database,
then he should be putting his own labels on any specimens that did not have
one, with his *own* unique identifier. However, if he doesn't make that
database accessible to the loaning institution(s), it does them no good,
does it? [One of the reasons that I've contended that folks should use
multiple-platform programs like FoxPro, rather than those exclusively for
DOS or Mac]. The alternative is to keep a database but not to use unique
identifying labels (which can work almost as well, if the data fields are
detailed enough...in a way, it can be *easier* - ask a person to scan
through a box of 500 specimens for a unique "00023415" versus a unique
"Cochise Co, Arizona, June 1937" and see). But I digress.
        It would be pretty rude for an institution to send labels and say
"go to it". Here at the INHS, new loans get labels as they are packed and
inventoried for shipping, but each insect order is in a separate database,
which will probably not match up with what other institutions are doing
(one database for everything). It'd be interesting to see whether these
numbers are still in use in 100 years.

>With some _community_ effort and cooperation, these issues, of how to
>create an environment where unique labeling of specimens could be
>accomplished by _all_ those who wish to allocate the resources, can be
>resolved. [clip] The tyranny lies in the inertia of
>the collections community (and its funding agencies/sources), which
>must take action as a community, rather than solely as assorted,
>independent individuals (which some have successfully done).

This is the most unpredictable part...there is no rhyme or reason apparent
to which inventory efforts get outside funding, and which do not. I can
only think of a tiny handful of museums that *presently* have the staff to
be able to handle such a project, and would certainly agree that it would
be nice if every collection in the country got money to hire 1 curatorial
assistant for every 500,000 specimens or so (hmm...that would give us 12
here, rather then the two temporary, part-timers we have at the moment...no
complaints there). That would go a long way towards getting everyone on
equal footing, but I can't imagine it ever happening. If anything, it looks
like funding is shrinking rather than expanding. But that, too, is a

Doug Yanega      Illinois Natural History Survey, 607 E. Peabody Dr.
Champaign, IL 61820 USA     phone (217) 244-6817, fax (217) 333-4949
  "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
        is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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