barcodes again (was Re: Museum Acronyms)

Doug Yanega dyanega at POP.UCR.EDU
Wed Jul 24 09:55:15 CDT 2002

Chris Thompson wrote:

>Sorry, Andrew, but once some of us had hoped that we could have
>standardized acronyms, like the Botanical community has. The purpose was be
>able to create unique barcodes, where the code would have the alpha acronym
>for the collection, followed by a sequential number. Such as INBIO000222445
>or USNM ENT 00012345. Then intelligent programs could parse the barcode,
>then go onto the Internet and retrive the specimen label data from the
>appropriate database.
>Unfortunately, that was a dream.

Only the "barcoding" part, and I, for one, don't consider that
unfortunate at all. It's cheaper and more time-efficient to use
regular old human-readable serial numbers and type the data in by
hand. Here at UCR we have both systems available for use (and our
labels all use our official "UCRC ENT" Coden). In side-by-side
trials, it takes at least 2-3 times longer to do any given data entry
or retrieval tasks if one uses the barcode reader as opposed to
simply eyeballing the serial number and entering the digits manually.
Why? Because one has to open the drawer, pull out the unit tray, pull
the specimen out of the tray, wave the scanner at the label, wait for
the beep, then put the specimen back. If just eyeballing, you don't
even have to open the drawer. Not only does it take substantially
longer, you run the risk of damaging the specimen in the process of
removing it, scanning it, and putting it back. The equipment for
barcode reading is an expensive investment, requires maintenance,
requires that anyone doing data entry has to be sitting where the
equipment is located (meaning only one person at a time can use it -
if we had more helpers, it would be even more efficient NOT to use
the scanner), and having the labels printed ain't cheap (compared to
serial number labels, which anyone can print on any old printer).

The one marginal advantage to barcode scanning is a lower error rate,
but - frankly - in my experience, I've found that it's harder to find
a student laborer who can remove and replace insects in a tray
without breaking off legs and antennae than it is to find one that
can read and type six-digit numbers without error. So, we have a
barcode reader but we don't use it except for our slide collection,
because time efficiency is our highest priority. I'd rather have
someone enter 1000 specimens per day (and get one number wrong per
1000) than have someone enter only 400 specimens per day flawlessly.
After all, *either way* there is a data-checking step, during which
mistakes are corrected, so the end result of the former approach is
comparable, at less than half the cost per record.

The idea of data sharing for specimen records is still alive, and I
believe it will come to pass. It just won't (or shouldn't) involve
barcodes. None of us is so flush with funding and labor that we can
afford to waste it that way.

My two cents,

Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California - Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521
phone: (909) 787-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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