barcodes again (was Re: Museum Acronyms)

Robin Leech releech at TELUSPLANET.NET
Wed Jul 24 14:07:31 CDT 2002

Chris and Doug,

Is it a dream because of the maverick nature of
biologists, or because of something else?  Perhaps
if all could see the advantage of a system...there might
be a way to find agreement and a solution.

And, Doug, it may take longer to initiate a system,
that is, to code in all the information,
but would it be quicker and faster for a new person
coming on line to either find the specimen or
retrieve the data ONCE THEY ARE IN THERE?

Even a competent museum curator may have to take
a few minutes to find certain specimens in a collection,
especially if he/she is new to the collection.

My late father was the former curator of Coleoptera
at the Cal Acad.  He kept the whereabouts of
millions of beetles in the CAS collection in his head,
the names of specialists who had made special or
specific requests, etc.  It put Dad in a unique position
of knowing all, but it also created a problem for the
next curator, Dave Kavanaugh.  Dave had either to
learn what my Dad knew, or submit the collection of
a computer reference.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Doug Yanega" <dyanega at POP.UCR.EDU>
Sent: Wednesday, July 24, 2002 10:55 AM
Subject: barcodes again (was Re: Museum Acronyms)

> 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
> >able to create unique barcodes, where the code would have the alpha
> >for the collection, followed by a sequential number. Such as
> >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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