Managing Lab Inventory

Down with Spreadsheets...

Tracking materials in a large lab can be a headache. Over the past three years in my lab we've attempted to construct an up-to-date record of our inventory. The first attempt took two days; we catalogued the contents of every shelf and drawer, and placed all the information in an Excel file. Once done, we emailed the file to the group, so we all had a copy. This worked for a while; whenever I wanted to find something, I searched the file for the item I wanted. However, as items were used up, new items were ordered, and other items were moved, my personal inventory quickly became out of date and of little use. About a year ago, we thought we could improve the system by moving the Excel file into a Google doc, so that everyone in the lab could access and edit as new items arrived. This has helped keep the inventory more up to date, however it still has major problems. Whenever I need to locate a reagent or chemical, I have to go to my desk (outside the lab), find the link to the Google doc and then search for the item I want. This takes time and, most importantly, breaks from my normal work flow.