The lab has purchased a bunch of relatively expensive equipment for use by our researchers at HMSC, students who may work mainly at the main campus in Corvallis or on their dissertations elsewhere, and our collaborators in other states and countries. Creating a system that allows for easy movement of the physical systems yet maintains the integrity is proving to be a complicated task for many reasons.
First, the equipment resides mainly at HMSC in Newport. Right now, only Shawn actually lives and works probably 75 percent of the time in Newport. Mark lives in Corvallis (about an hour away) but spends maybe half his week, roughly, in Newport, and Laura and I live in Corvallis but usually spend less than half the week in Newport. For all of us, the schedule of Newport vs. Corvallis vs. elsewhere work time is not at all regular. This means that no one is a good go-to person for handling the check-in and -out of the equipment unless a user is enough of a planner to know they need something (and know exactly what they need) in advance to ask one of us to bring it back to Corvallis.
And in reality, we don’t really want to have to act like overlords hoarding the equipment and doling it out when we feel like it. We’d like to have a system where people can access the equipment more freely but responsibly. But our shared spaces have other people going in and out that make it difficult to restrict access enough with the limited number of keys to the cabinet we have yet work without a main gatekeeper. Plus, things have just gone walkabout over the years since no one does keep track. People forget they have something, forget where it came from, leave the school and take it with them, not maliciously, but out of lack of time to worry about it and frankly, no one with interest in keeping up with the equipment. This especially happens with Shawn’s books. Full disclosure: I’m pretty guilty of it myself, at least of having things I borrow sit on my desk far beyond the time that it might be reasonable for me to keep them. No one else may be asking to use them, but if the resources aren’t on a shelf or in a database for browsers to know they’re available, it’s not really available in my eyes.
So we’ve struggled with this system. I tried to be the one in charge for a while, but I wasn’t travelling back and forth to Newport regularly, and it was a burden for people to come to me then me to find someone who was in Newport to pick it up and bring it to me to turn over to the borrower, and basically reverse the process when stuff was returned. Technically, the school probably wants us to have people sign off on taking equipment, even things with the small dollar values of these items, but that’s another layer of hassle to deal with.
Plus, the database programs we’ve tried to use to keep track have proved annoying for one reason or another. Again, most of the database programs are linked to one computer, so one person had to be the gatekeeper. For now, we’ve settled on a paper sign-out system on the door of the cabinet holding the equipment, but that doesn’t integrate with any computerized system that would be easy to track what’s out and in at any given time and when things are due back. The school multimedia system on campus uses barcode scanners, but the cost of implementing a system for our small use case is probably prohibitive. Peer-to-peer lending systems have the owners responsible for their own stuff, but even they often use online databases to track things. Suggestions welcome!
It’s just another thing that most people don’t think about that’s behind-the-scenes in the research process. And then when you go to do research, you spend way too much time thinking about it, or stuff gets lost.