Specimen databases

Michael Chamberland chamb at U.ARIZONA.EDU
Thu Aug 10 10:44:11 CDT 2000

At 10:24 AM 8/10/2000 -0500, you wrote:
>Like you, we're also considering starting the HUGE job of computerizing our
>collections, so your request for the latest info about barcoding specimens
>is timely for us. We're also wondering which software to use for the
>database -- currently we're looking at the pro's and con's of SPECIFY,
>BIOTA, and EMu. We want to be able to "link" digital images to the specimen
>records, and if the entire herbarium is eventually catalogued, the software
>would have to handle ca. 500,000 records. Is anyone willing to offer
>positive or negative comments about these software packages? Are there
>others we should consider?

I have worked with SPECIFY and BIOTA, and various other database programs
towards this purpose.  For generating labels for herbarium specimens, and
also databasing this information, I've found that Microsoft Access has been
the best tool.  Access allows you to design your own system to accommodate
the data fields you are interested in.  I've used a flat file design (not
relational) for the data table.  To print labels I've made a template in
Microsoft Word, with all the desired fonts and positioning, then run a mail
merge.  Word is able to pull the data directly from fields in the Access
data table, plugging these into the template for a nice looking label.

The disadvantage of this approach is you must build your own program and
debug it.  But it is easier than it sounds.  You can also get a head start
if you can copy someone else's label-making setup.  BIOTA and SPECIFY offer
many features for herbarium management, and are a platform for managing all
kinds of specimens (not just plants) as well as tracking relationships
between specimens (host/parasite, predator/prey).  These many features,
IMHO, rendered these programs a bit too cumbersome for my taste, and could
not be customized.  And ultimately the flexibility of Access to import
existing data won out in its favor.

I have not attempted to link bar codes or images to the Access database,
but I believe the program is capable of this.

PS. I am not employed by Bill Gates (even if it sometimes feels I am!)

Another issue: with every herbarium or collection running a different
database system, this complicates the objective of easily sharing data
(merging databases).  I don't have an easy answer to this, and I suppose we
must wait for the PERFECT pre-made database system to come along, which
will also accept data from databases now in use.

Michael Chamberland
Assistant Curator
University of Arizona Herbarium (ARIZ)

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