Tuesday, February 20, 2018


Bar Codes

Ian Jackson, "The aesthetic bane of bar coding," a review of Mécènes et collectionneurs, 2 vols. (Paris: Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques, 1999), in Taxon 49.2 (May, 2000) 355-356 (at 356):
No director of an art museum would dream of attaching a bar code to the blank margin of a Rembrandt etching, however convenient it might be for regulating the supply of study material to art historians in the print room. Yet many an herbarium custodian has done just that, even to historic specimens, so that they may be checked in and out in bulk, like tins of soup at a grocery store. These administrative barbarians have not even the taste to place the discordant label on the backs of sheets, presumably so that they may be copied with all essential data present, like a police mug shot.

This may seem to be a small thing to complain of, but the bar code is insidious. It is perhaps the greatest failure in industrial design of the 20th century. Someday (when the last taxonomist is dead?) expensive teams of archivists may spend years in removing bar codes, as art restorers now remove grotesque over-paintings.

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