Choosing a collections management system can be a methodical, iterative process of evaluating specific features and functions, as well as judging the overall goodness-of-fit of the platform relative to how you organize your collection and conceptualize the data associated with it.
In addition to specific capabilities, the user interface and experience are important criteria to assess. Like most scientific software platforms, Specify has a steep but short learning curve. Commercial office applications have set a high bar for intuitiveness and being immediately usable. (Open Word or Excel and just start typing.) Processing collection data in a structured database package is more complex, on account of the nuanced collections management protocols and specimen work flows that have evolved from hundreds of years of legacy curatorial methods, recent data standards, and local curatorial preference. Specify’s data model, customizable user interface, support for museum transactions, information inputs and outputs are based on 30 years of collaborative interactions with biological collections institutions in the Specify and MUSE software projects.
The choice of a software platform should also be based in part on how the software is maintained, how often it is updated and extended, and how responsive the provider is to technical questions and data management issues when they arise.
Finally, the choice of a collections data management system reflects your institutional values. Do you place any value in contributing to the development and sustenance of the open source research software infrastructure of the global biological collections community? Or do you want to be a “retail consumer” of commercially-licensed software, where meeting your own data management needs the overriding criterion?
Whatever your values are with respect to open source software and data communities, and whether or not your institution values influence your interest in an overall community strategy, we stand ready to help you evaluate Specify for your collection.
The first stop for evaluation might be the Specify Project web site specifysoftware.org that you clearly have already discovered. Browsing the documentation, guidance documents, data model, and training videos there will give an impression of the features of Specify Software and the overall collections data perspective of the Project.
Next, you might consider using Specify software for evaluation. The quickest and easiest way to do that would be to point your web browser to http://demo7.specifysoftware.org to connect to our Specify 7 demonstration and evaluation server. You can login with the credentials:
Username and password = sp7demofish
We have attached that demonstration copy of Specify 7 to our ‘Demo Database’ which contains several types of collections (not just fish), stored queries, and sample Specify WorkBench files which can be uploaded as a test of the batch import process.
Experienced Linux server administrators interested in installing Specify 7 will find its source code and docs at: https://github.com/specify. We can advise installations using the latest Ubuntu LTS release and MySQL / Mariadb 5.6 or 5.7 with Apache.” For evaluation purposes, we can only provide support directly related to Specify products–not for system administration or network issues, such as SSL certificate configuration, custom start/stop scripts, or other local requirements of that nature.
Installing the thick client, Specify 6, is another path for evaluating Specify. Specify 6 requires the prior installation of Java 8 JRE (Java Run-time Environment not the Java web browser extension) and the community version of the MySQL data management engine. Sources of those products are given in the Specify installation materials and in installation guides on the project web site. The installation of Specify 6 for the first time requires some technical knowledge and permissions to configure the software on the target machine. It is vitally important to record the various MySQL and Specify account names and passwords as you proceed through the installation process. More information on how to install Specify 6 can be found on this project web site.
Also on the Specify web site is a MySQL database copy of the ‘Demo Database’ which can be downloaded and attached to an installed Specify 6 or Specify 7 MySQL server for testing Specify features. Let us know if we can help you connect the Demo Database to a test installation.
In the past we were able to convert sample data sets from client legacy systems as part of the evaluation process, but in our quest for financial sustainability we can no longer provide that free service.
The Specify web site community forum is a good place to ask general questions about Specify capabilities, and to reach out to Specify institutions for tips and advice. Reviews by peers in other collections is probably the most widely-used channel for guidance and reviews. Specify staff will participate in community forums and try to provide helpful answers and advice.
We are happy to help debug installation problems that may arise for evaluation purposes. Please use the form below to contact us regarding evaluation tech support.
Finally, if you have decided to commit to using Specify and the collections consortium as an institutional member, please contact us using the form below and we will work with you to plan your Specify installation, customization and data migration.