collections computerization

Nancy Hensold hensold at ABIS.FMNH.ORG
Tue Nov 28 18:47:58 CST 1995

I'm not against collections computerization, and am virtually a peripheral
spectator in this discussion, but it seems like--
(a) Computerizing collections is an additional expense over and above the
traditional curatorial costs of a collection.
(b) Collections computerization does little to make traditional collection
management operations more efficient.
(c) The prime benefactor of collections computerization is the general
scientific public (non-taxonomists probably more than taxonomists).
(d) The funds and time collectively available for research by (we) the staff
resident in these collections, and for collections management activities,
are not growing.
(e) So, why should we care?
(f) Unless we are unemployed taxonomists who would rather write programs for
a living than comb through DNA fragments. (And who can blame you?)

I love databases; they are hypnotic and so zippy and tingly and make you
feel so smart, and it is so easy to squeeze publishable results out of them,
all because armies of minimum wage persons spent hours and hours tweezing
data into them. I also recognize a moral civic responsibility when I see
one. Our info should be accessible to every human being on earth, from the
comfort of their living room.
However, it is an incredible drag to those holding the bag, most of whom
have no training in computer science, and then must endure heckling by
techies: "But it's so EASY, all you have to do is...."

Sorry, I know I sound flip, but this is not a flip question: What do the
agencies (like NSF) who are pressuring for specimen computerization see as
the big payout? I have a TROPICOS account and sometimes look up stuff on
there, but not very often, mostly to see if they've det. something yet. For
serious work, I don't trust det's of plants I can't see. It would seem more
useful to me to have specimen information entered out of literature, than
off of specimens themselves, and a lot easier. And put pressure on
researchers to electronically publish their determinations, with data in a
standard format.

Nancy Hensold
Department of Botany
Field Museum
Chicago, IL 60605
hensold at

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