A portable, stand-alone, desk-top, laser scanning workstation includes a laser scanning head mounted above a support base. Objects bearing bar code symbols to be scanned are passed underneath the head for overhead scanning, or are passed along one side of the head for sideward scanning. The symbols are oriented face-up towards the handler all during their passage through the workstation to facilitate sighting and registration of the symbol with the laser light beam generated by the head. The workstation is self-supporting, is fully portable, can process objects of different sizes, and grants access to objects from either side of the workstation. The workstation is connected to a microprocessor-based microcomputer which is mounted within a desk-top console, as well as to a variety of peripheral devices such as a printer, a keyboard, a communications port, audio-visual annunciators and a data display. The workstation, console and peripheral devices all constitute an intelligent laser-based data acquisition terminal for use in a variety of applications.