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Open Access Commentary

Make it better but don't change anything

Jerry M Wright

Author Affiliations

Department of Physiology, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, 725 N Wolfe St, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA

Automated Experimentation 2009, 1:5  doi:10.1186/1759-4499-1-5

Published: 19 November 2009

Abstract

With massive amounts of data being generated in electronic format, there is a need in basic science laboratories to adopt new methods for tracking and analyzing data. An electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) is not just a replacement for a paper lab notebook, it is a new method of storing and organizing data while maintaining the data entry flexibility and legal recording functions of paper notebooks. Paper notebooks are regarded as highly flexible since the user can configure it to store almost anything that can be written or physically pasted onto the pages. However, data retrieval and data sharing from paper notebooks are labor intensive processes and notebooks can be misplaced, a single point of failure that loses all entries in the volume. Additional features provided by electronic notebooks include searchable indices, data sharing, automatic archiving for security against loss and ease of data duplication. Furthermore, ELNs can be tasked with additional functions not commonly found in paper notebooks such as inventory control. While ELNs have been on the market for some time now, adoption of an ELN in academic basic science laboratories has been lagging. Issues that have restrained development and adoption of ELN in research laboratories are the sheer variety and frequency of changes in protocols with a need for the user to control notebook configuration outside the framework of professional IT staff support. In this commentary, we will look at some of the issues and experiences in academic laboratories that have proved challenging in implementing an electronic lab notebook.