Reply To: Using barcodes

Ron Kley

I’ve never used bar codes for marking collection objects but, if I were thinking about it (which I’m not) I’d want to know the following:

Can bar codes vary in size and still be read by the same scanner? (You probably wouldn’t want to use a minuscule code strip on a large piece of furniture, nor would you want to slap a big strip on a tiny item.)

Can bar codes be easily read by a hand-held scanner if they’re placed on a curved or irregular surface?

Can a bar code be accompanied by an old fashioned numeric “catalog number” so that the object can be identified without the need for a bar code reader?

What has been, and what is likely to be, the evolutionary history of bar codes? Would a bar code placed on an object in 1970 be readable today; and will today’s bar code be intelligible 20 or 50 years from now? I’m quite certain that “2013.42.3” will mean just as much in a century or two as it does today, but I’d be less confident about an equivalent bar code, or QR code, or any other “scannable”  data format. If you were around when the next “new and impropved” bar code standards are adopted, would you (or your Director) want to shoulder the task of converting and re-applying all of the labels?

Call me a Luddite if you will, but I’m always skeptical about the “bleeding edge” of techology and the hassles inherent in switching from the last new thing to the current new thing and the next new thing. Consider, for a moment, the technical problems and the time and effort that would have been involved over the last century in converting music from an Edison cylinder to each of the many “standards” that have come along and then fallen by the wayside. In theory, the transition from one digital format to another is always feasible — but feasible ain’t necessarily practical.