unique numbering systems

Mon Jul 31 19:07:06 CDT 1995

For the entomology community, a standard for unique labeling that does
not require more than one label already exists.  At the Entomology
Collection Network meetings in Lafayette, (December 1993) a motion was
passed to use a unique alphanumeric coden (or acronym) followed by a
6 digit unique numbering system as the standard.  This "identifier"
was to be in roman type AND Bar Code Standard 49, so as to be both
eye and machine readable.  Once a label is on a specimen, any further
databaser could simply use the same identifier  in her/his database,
with no need to add another.  Adding more and more labels is not only
unnecessary, it is silly.

The Virgin Islands Beetle fauna project has followed this standard, and
has put labels on specimens from dozens of collections.  As machine reading
and mass availability of databases on-line become practical, such specimens
can have information retrieved no matter where it is stored.  Since the
machine readable label MUST be exposed to work, adding other labels is
actually destructive.

As for lot databasing, you might as well not do it.  The only benefit is
in lazyness, as field repeats can make automatic work of the extra entries.
Otherwise, if a species is supposed to be part of a batch, and is sent out
for revision or exchange, and a mistake is found to have caused a mixed
series, there is no way to easily go back, identify which one should be
changed, etc.   For instance, Gary lumps 23 specimens together as the same
species with the same label data, of which 12 are males.  He then sends
them back to the respective museums, where they sit for 5 years, when it
group is found to be a mixed series of sibling species.  The new worker,
not being very careful, sends Gary the information that 4 of his 12 are the
other species, not mentioning sex, and then drops out of the field.

Gary cannot update his database.  Period.  If each had a unique number,
the changes would be easy, virtually automatic.

In short, unique numbers are practical, even for large diverse taxa like
beetles.  The numbers should be added either at labeling or at revision
time.  The labels should conform to the agreed upon standards, even if
some will quibble, and only one identifier label should be needed.  The
technology and programs needed to produce bar codes can be optained, and
for first-class outfits, practically indestructable polyester labels can
be purchased for less than nineteen cents apiece, and the price is dropping.

I know the argument is coming that "I don't have any technician to do the
work for me".  A label must be added to specimens having been revised to
allow it to be associated with the revision.  Why not make it this one?
A det label also is nice, but redundant.  Do THAT one only if you can afford
the effort to do 2.  Like it or not, we are headed for the future, and
practices will be different.

Michael A. Ivie
Department of Entomology
Montana State University
Bozeman, MT 59717 USA

ueymi at msu.oscs.montana.edu

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