Using barcodes

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    • #132275

      I am the volunteer collections manager at a small, volunteer-run, historic house. The house’s collection is completely un-cataloged and un-numbered. I am working on inventorying and cataloging everything. The director of the house is interested in possibly using bar codes to label objects. I do not have any experience using bar codes and was wondering if anyone uses them in their collection and what are the pros and cons?

    • #132280
      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.

    • #132279
      Becca DuBey

      My understanding is that getting barcodes to stick on curved surfaces, let alone read them, is still an issue.  I tend to agree with all the points brought up by Ron and would suggest you tak a look at the numbering techniques brought up earlier in this forum.  People had some very helpful suggestions.   I woud encourage you to use the thee part numbering system which has become a standard in the Museum world.  Keep your questions coming… this is a great place to find answers!

    • #132278

      We do use barcodes on boxes that contain material and in association with books.  The barcodes have the letters/numbers printed below the bars so that the code is readable and can be typed or read if there is no scanner.  The barcodes are attached to the outside of boxes.  When used with books, the barcodes are attached to acid/lignin free flags.  The flags also include author/title or other identifying info incase the flag and the book becomes separated.  We have found the barcodes useful when moving material since they can be used to quickly update a database (or spreadsheet) with the new location.   Their use can be more problematic on other types of objects.  If you should decide to use them, be sure the ink is a type that won’t smudge and that the adhesive is reasonable archival (not sure adhesives are every truly archival…)

    • #132277

      We use barcodes as identification and registration of library books. The care we had was to choose materials – label and glue – the most stable possible that wouldn´t contribute to the deterioration of the books. The biggest problem is that the glue has to be strong enough to keep the label attached and if the surfaces are curved, the problem worsens.

    • #132276
      James C. Sagebiel

      Nice thing about barcodes – 1. You can purchase hand-held readers that have enough memory to allow you to do an inventory without being connected to a computer, or that use bluetooth technology- ideal for an historic house where the items are scattered about the property. 2. barcodes can be read using a mirror because the bars do not have chirality. I have seen historic houses apply a barcode to the underside of chairs and to the back of mirrors, pictures, etc. and then use a mirror on the end of a stick to read the labels. So you don’t have to crawl under anything, move furniture, or pull framed items off of the walls.

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