Overview of Accessioning New Specimens

Keeping up with the digitization of incoming accessions within an active collection can be a constant struggle. A significant amount of time is spent transcribing label information from specimens obtained from an exchange, biological research project, or an active collector. Ideally, the digitized specimen data would be included with the exchange, though this is often not the case. When data is included, data formats differ enough that it is often more hassle than it is worth to integrate the data into the central database. Unfortunately, this means that a single specimen with duplicates is can be transcribed several times. For instance, if three duplicates of a specimen are collected, the collector will create a label for each of the specimen duplicates. When the duplicates are distributed, the three different receiving institutions typically have to transcribe the collection information from the label into their central database. If this is not a coordinated effort, the collection information for a specimen is transcribed four separate times when it only needs to be done once, ideally by the collector.

The ability for field biologists to enter, manage, and print labels for their collection data using an online application is an attempt to reduce the workload and data entry errors connected to multiple transcription of new accessions. Through the use of this application, the collector’s data is available for download or direct transfer to all receiving institutions. Making the data available based on standard data exchange formats (i.e. Darwin Core) facilitates easy integration within a central database. For example, data exported in the Darwin Core format can be easily integrated into a Specify database using the Specify workbench. Collections that manage their data directly within the Symbiota biodiversity portal can simply locate the record using the duplicate record search function on the specimen data entry form, import the data to the form, enter their catalog number (accession number), and save to their collection.

The suggested workflow is as follows:

  1. Collector enters specimen data into a Symbiota Biodiversity portal linked to an observation project. Alternatively, a collection manager may give a specific collector permission to enter records linked directly in their collection. However, collection managers typically prefer to not to have a new record entered into their database until it has been properly accessioned with a barcode or accession number.
  2. Collector prints specimen labels and matches each label with the correct specimen.
  3. Specimens are distributed to one or several institutions. Duplicates are typically distributed directly by collector or by the collector’s home institution.
  4. Receiving institutions retrieve the data for the specimen records and incorporate the data into their central specimen database. This process differs depending on whether the institution manages their specimen data directly within the portal or uses an external specimen management tool.
    1. Symbiota Specimen Data Management: Data entry personnel are able to make use of the duplicate specimen search feature within the data entry form to transfer the data to their collection. This is done by: 1) entering the collector’s last name and collector’s number; 2) click the Dupes search button; 3) click Import Data for matching record displayed from the observation project; 4) enter catalog number; 5) save record.
    2. External Specimen Management Application: Special online data export forms allow collection managers to easily locate and download the observation records matching the incoming exchange specimens. If data is downloaded as a CSV file, catalog numbers can be added into the spreadsheet before uploading to the central database. Darwin Core compliant data downloads can be easily uploaded to a Specify database using their built-in workbench.