A taxonomic and alphabetic arrangement (TAA) of objects on shelves has prevailed in fluid-preserved natural history collections while they were managed by scientists for their own research. Now most collections are databased and internet-accessible to facilitate very different forms of research accomplished remotely by researchers who require less physical access to specimens. The collections staff who make those data available struggle to manage collection growth with limited space and budgets, while demands on them are increasing, necessitating task and space-efficient collection management solutions. We describe an alternative arrangement of objects based on their size and catalog number (OCA) that capitalizes on modern databases. Our partial implementation of this system facilitated pragmatic between-system comparisons of space use and staff time required for routine tasks. Our OCA allows 17% more jars to be stored in a given space than a TAA (not counting spaces left for growth), but adjusting vertical spacing of shelves could increase that to 115%. Ten of 15 staff tasks were more efficiently accomplished in the OCA section of the collection, and we propose ways to improve efficiency for three of the four tasks for which the TAA outperformed the OCA.

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Author notes

Associate Editor.—Mariel Campbell