Ask DrugMonkey: Electronic Lab Notebooks

February 20, 2014

A query came in through the email box:

Do you use ELNs in your lab? Is that something that you think would make a useful blog post? I haven’t found much elsewhere in the blogosphere about ELNs. Maybe you will find this to be a shining example of why you have stuck with paper and pen.

I don’t use one so I’m turning this over to you folks. Any recommendations for your fellow Reader?

11 Responses to “Ask DrugMonkey: Electronic Lab Notebooks”

  1. drdrA Says:

    Yes. We do this in wiki format- on either a mac mini server or on a PC using foswiki (which is open source). Works very well, but sometimes you have to beat the old timers to actually do the posts. Drawbacks are you have to have an alternate location to store images because they will quickly outstrip your server space, and secondly, your institution won’t like you having your own server because its a security risk for them.


  2. K Says:

    When I was in grad school our lab used a web-based lab management tool that included electronic lab notebooks. I can’t remember what it was called. It was great for inventorying stuff for personnel that were leaving the lab, but as a day-to-day lab notebook, not so much. The main problem we had was that what started out as a free online tool was sold to another company that charged a monthly fee, then was sold to another company that raised the fee, etc. With each new transfer the format would change it would change the interface and some information would have to be re-entered. I personally got discouraged by it and stopped using it. It kept our student workers busy, though. I’m sure they weren’t thrilled at having to re-do inventory every time the tool was transferred.

    Most people in our lab relied on their own laptop method (a file would then be passed on to the PI when that person graduated or moved on) or old school hand written notebooks (which are owned by the lab – personnel who leave usually spend their last few days photocopying). I was one of the old schoolers with a hand written lab notebook. I left on good terms and can return any time I want if I really have the desire to photocopy my lab notebook.


  3. Dave Says:

    Never got into it here, but I can see the appeal. I’m sure we will get there eventually.


  4. clueless noob Says:

    I use a private Google Sites setup, which is pretty OK. And free.


  5. Anonymous Says:

    Evernote for Business is awesome and relatively cheap for academics (= discount).


  6. professa Says:

    we have used CERF (subsequently irisnote) which does a nice job of backing up to servers and version tracking everything. Downside is that it is not easy to collaborate with others that don’t use this software or are at other institutions. And the company apparently just folded.


  7. drugmonkey Says:

    The company folding would seem to be a substantial demerit for the product.


  8. professa Says:

    Yeah, that is a major problem. It is probably worth exploring how data c be exported from the ELN prior to jumping in. If its all PDFs that would be much less desirable than a more portable file type. Maybe XML would be best?


  9. martini Says:

    We use Evernote + bitbucket (Git repositories) for bioinformatics.

    Evernote is the “descriptive” part of what is being done and why, along with archives of terminal input and output, code that is written etc.

    Git repositories track changes to codebases as well as to source files (since most are text files).

    I experimented with ELNs as a post-doc, and at the end of the day, it is just easier to use a standard notebook.


  10. sciencedino Says:

    My lab uses Google docs for managing fly stocks and inventory, as well as for reserving equipment. But other than that, we can keep our own data however we want as long as it’s available to the PI upon request.


  11. TeaHag Says:

    My research group recently moved institutions. As part of our transition our previous institution required that we leave all our original hard copy research records… aka every immunoblot film we’d ever generated, all lab notebooks, cage cards….. whatever. I asked where they’d be stored.. Iron Mountain.

    We had to have everything scanned.

    We will never again keep any data exclusively in a hard copy format. The issues around IP make many institutions hyper protective of this material and you will not win any battles in this regard.

    I did enjoy the faces of the IT guys when I asked where they were going to store our RNAseq data sets, as I waved a hand towards the pile of terabyte external drives………..

    Payback for the measly buffers we got on our email.. hah!@!!


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