Few things seem more a part of the material world than biological specimens. Yet the processes by which collections of specimens are assembled, translated into information, combined with more information, and distributed are taking research repositories into the virtual realm.
The term “virtual” has a number of meanings, and so a research repository can qualify as virtual in a variety of ways. The term would seem to apply, for example, to (1) constructing a repository by forming a network among institutions; (2) using the Internet or the World Wide Web to solicit specimens and information; (3) integrating web-based technology into the operation of the bank; (4) using the Internet or web-based technology to manage relationships with donors or collection sites and recipients; and (5) digitizing specimens. The all-digital repository would seem the most virtual of all possible repositories, a true cyberbank.