Doug Yanega dyanega at POP.UCR.EDU
Thu Jul 25 11:17:46 CDT 2002

Chris Thompson wrote:

>Personal experience with INBIO material, I can also say, having processed
>more than 20,000 specimens, I could never had captured as much data as fast
>as I can now with barcodes and databased specimen label information.

INBIO is an exceptional case, as you note below, since they're doing
PROspective barcoding.

>  I can
>easily process more than a 1,000 specimens a  day (only real factor is that
>one's thumb and fore finger get real sore in pulling out and pass the pinned
>specimens under the scanner, etc.).

That "real factor" also involves real risk to the specimens,
especially when untrained personnel (the only help available to many
of us) are doing the scanning.

>The other caveat, which must always be stated, is there is a difference
>between PROspective barcoding and specimen label information capture and
>RETROspective work. This was articulated again back in 1994 in Insect
>Collection News (still available on WWW at\barcodes.htm).

I am fully aware of this. Please bear in mind (if it wasn't already
obvious) that my comments are specifically and STRICTLY in the
context of retrospective data capture for pinned insects - old
specimens that already have a full complement of labels, where the
barcode label CANNOT be placed above the others the way INBIO has
them. For microscope slides, herbarium sheets, and other such things,
barcoding is great, but you and I (and Brian Brown, and others) work
with insect collections where 99% of the material is old backlog, so
whatever databasing system *we* use should be tailored to
RETROspective data capture. Barcoding, as you imply, is NOT the
system most appropriate for that task, at least not with pinned
insects. I am NEVER going to invest in a technology which is much
more costly and lets me deal slightly more effectively with 1% of our
holdings, and significantly *less* effectively with the remainder.

Brian Brown wrote:

>Doug: I totally disagree with your comments about barcodes. Frankly, if you
>have special concerns about using them (like students picking up the
>specimens) there are ways around it (like putting the barcodes in different

The extra time required to remove each specimen from its tray, remove
all the old labels from the pin, slide the barcode label to the top,
replace the old labels, and then replace the specimen is not a "way
around" anything. That's a curatorial nightmare. If you're talking
about NEW material, as I suspect, then you and I are simply talking
about different things.

>If you are retroactively capturing data from specimens, including locality
>data, it is a long and painful process. If you barcode as new material
>comes in, you can save tremendous amounts of time by using default values
>for fields that repeat (i.e. locality data from many specimens from the
>same trap sample).

This efficiency (default values for long series) applies whether or
not your database relies on barcoded labels or not. I can only assume
that you're describing a system where, like INBIO, the barcode label
goes above all the other labels (and the insects are generally
small), because if the barcode labels are on the bottom, or otherwise
blocked from view, barcode reading takes 2-3 times longer than
typing. Actual data: if given a drawer of specimens with 8 unit
trays, each of which contains a single large series (50-100
specimens), I can enter the data in 90 seconds by eyeballing it, but
it takes 250 seconds to use a scanner to do the same exact task.
Ultimately, I don't care whether a barcode scanner can get me down to
60 seconds on a drawer of *new* material with barcode labels on top,
because I have only thousands of new specimens to deal with, but 3
*million* old specimens, and a very limited budget. The added expense
doesn't justify the tiny improvement in overall performance.

The only concession I could see making is if I were offered barcode
labels that were (a) cheaper than the labels I print myself (b) as
small or smaller than our present number labels (c) with a clear,
human-readable number printed along the edge, and (d) archival
quality. That way, we could use the scanner for new material, if
desired, and the human-readable numbers for the old material and
under situations where the scanner is impractical (like working
within the collection area itself). Unfortunately, I have yet to see
barcode labels that meet all of these criteria, especially the
"cheaper" one; it costs about 70 cents for me to print 10,000
archival labels measuring 5 x 13 mm - I doubt barcode labels that
size could ever be acquired cheaper than that. If anyone can tell me
otherwise, I'd be very interested.


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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