"Because every design must satisfy competing objectives, there necessarily has to be compromise among, if not the complete exclusion of, some of those objectives, in order to meet what are considered the more important of them." -Henry Petroski


Info in a database and high resolution photos of entire drawers are two different things that happen to overlap in information content.


The photos let you get a sense of what's going on in just a few seconds. I've even searched for specific taxa within drawers of un-IDed specimens using whole drawer photos online. You can't do that in a database.


On the other hand, the notion that all the data on a label can be captured for a majority of specimens in a drawer is wishful thinking. 


On Tue, Jul 28, 2015 at 1:04 PM, Neil Stanley Cobb <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

You should know soon after Sept. 4, 2015



The Beyond the Box Digitization Challenge has been designed to stimulate individuals or teams to solve a problem that is hindering scientific research and innovation - the inability to quickly and accurately digitize specimens and associated data in a standard tray of insects in a natural history museum.

The winning entry will receive up to $1 million for the development of a hardware and software system that automates digitization of pinned insect specimens, without damaging the specimens--one of the most challenging biocollections digitization tasks.

The competition deadline is September 4, 2015.

Beyond the Box Web site.



rom: Entomological Collections Network Listserve [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Mark O'Brien
Sent: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 10:45 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: whole drawer digitization question


Dear fellow entomologists:


As some of you know, the UMMZ is going to be moving  all of its collections to a new facility off-campus in the spring of 2016.  All of our drawers have a barcode on the front to facilitate drawer inventory and mapping to placement in the new collection space (which will be two-stacked stacked 6 ft cabinets of 50 drawers each).  A faculty member has been keen on having us digitize the drawers as part of the move.  As I see it, any photographs of the drawers would be pretty much for inventory purposes and collection management, not for extraction of data.  That would be approximately 9000 insect drawers.  


It has been suggested that we could use this opportunity to extract data from the specimens, and my BS filter kicks in.  I am familiar with some of the technological attempts at doing such a process, but the reality (or at least my version of it) is that it's a dog and pony show.  No matter what, data capture is going to depend on a bunch of dedicated workers to examine the specimens, labels, and transfer the data, in addition to adding a matrix code to the pinned specimens.  I estimate that it costs us about 20 cents/specimen to do the cataloging via human. 


I see where images of drawers could be very helpful in getting people to see our material, and a relatively-low cost way to get certain specimens that are unidentified into the view of interested workers, but those images are not going to be able to convey all of the information.


I am not trying stir the pot, but how do you see such efforts?  Are they worthwhile for your research needs?  After all, the idea of accumulating and managing terabytes of images is more work than managing the actual collection.


I hope that you are all having a good summer!





Mark F. O'Brien, Collection Manager

Insect Division, Museum of Zoology

The University of Michigan

1109 Geddes Avenue

Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1079



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