Slide Catalogs, Indices, and Labels II

Time for another exciting bit of truly important tedium! -K

Part Two; Catalog and Index
From the previous post it should be clear that the form of label can vary wildly as can the information on it. Its hardly possible to fit all of the useful information one might have concerning a specimen, or its treatment, on a slides labels. Logically the thing to do is place the more extensive information in a secondary location where it is both accessible and organized: a catalog or database of some kind is warranted.

The information kept may be standardized across an entire collection or it may vary and be tailored to each slide depending on what is relevant or known. The decision on whether to maintain a constant or variable set of information is as much a mater of preference as the choice of what to include on the slides label. Information may be spartan and limited only to that which not obvious, or robust in the extreme filling an entire sheet of paper.

This raises an other question, the choice of medium on which to compose the catalog. One can compose the catalog on traditional media such as looseleaf paper kept in a binder, or a series of index cards in a file. The variety of digital options is quite extensive, specialized software will prove popular with some while a simple spreadsheet or web based database might be preferable for some hobbyists. For particularly large or complex collections a digital catalog can prove expedient if for no other reason than its being rapidly searchable and previous entries are more easily updated or expanded. A hard copy catalog of printed forms filled in by hand with ink is often simpler to use in practice.

Papers recommending the form which a slide catalog can take and the information one should include date to the nineteenth century and may be found in any number of texts. Guides on the subject are not infrequently written for slides produced for a particular study or by a specific laboratory; what is required of a catalog for one series of slides may differ substantially from an other. Few recommendations exist concerning the catalog kept by an amateur and such a catalog faces all the challenges of a curators catalog and more.

Specimens may be of enormously different sorts and of massively divergent ages. The knowledge the cataloger posses of each slide may be likewise variable. If one relies on a catalog where the information recored is constant regardless of slide, there is a substantial risk that many fields will necessarily be left black for slides which are purchased as opposed to slides which are prepared by ones self or vice versa. One may side step such a pitfall by using only broad information in ones catalog and providing a section where particular notes unique to each slide may be entered.

An index of some sort if useful simply for providing ready access to the information of a desired slide, or type of slide. With a digital catalog a traditional index is largely superfluous as the rapid searching provided by the software used should negate the need for a formal index. For a paper catalog one may organize the index around a handful of useful information, such as the specimens name, or the type of preparation. It is a simple manner to adapt a printed address book and make entries alphabetically which correspond to numbers in the catalog proper or pages of the catalog. One may also use the index to locate slides if entries within it point to the location where the slide is stored. If at first such an index seems more labor than it is worth when a substantial number of slides are had it will prove useful, particularly for the aid of collections that are used by others than the curator.

Whatever manner of catalog is kept, in whatever form, it is undeniably of great utility particularly when one begins preparing or collecting permanent mounts. If one simply tucks slides into cases as they are acquired it will become all to easy to lose track of a delightful preparation just when it is most needed. A catalog serves to fix a means of organization as much as a method of retaining information that will not fit upon a slides label. I have no wish or standing to set a best program for the creation of a slide catalog but as with labels I will attempt some broad standards that will help inspire one who wishes to compose a useful catalog.

  • Each entry should bear a number that corresponds to an indelible mark on the slide to which it corresponds.
  • Each entry should inform upon the location of the slide in storage, i.e. Box A, Slot 1 etc.
  • Each entry should inform upon the provenance of the slide.
  • Each entry should identify the preparation by the name that is marked on the label of the slide to which it corresponds.
  • Each entry should include both the common name of the specimen and its scientific name if known.
  • Each entry should identify the source of the specimen; point of collection if known, limited to type if unknown i.e. whole mount, transverse section, smear etc.
  • Each entry should describe in general terms the process used in preparation if known.
  • Each entry should include the mountant used.
  • Each entry should include the date of mounting if known, the date of acquisition is unknown.
  • Each entry should inform as to the gauge of coverslip used.
  • Each entry should include a section for notes of interest not provided for elsewhere in the catalog.

Next post will be about mounting a specimen or two, I promise!

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