How Do Electronic Laboratory Notebooks Inspire Researchers?
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OBJECTIVES: This research poster explores if and how electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) platforms include features that may facilitate researchers in: collaborating; incorporating research literature in laboratory practices; or implementing best practices in research data management. It also looks to discover what other features are important to researchers when using an ELN. METHODS: This research poster begins a 3-step process to explore researchers’ use of electronic notebooks – particularly within health and life sciences (with inclusion of literature results from chemistry, engineering, and computational sciences), and within academic institutions. This poster includes results from the first two steps: 1) a scan of 100 Twitter and Google postings, blogs, and comments regarding use or interest in electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) by from researchers, generating a list of initial ‘features of interest’ criteria for ELN platforms, primarily for academic researchers, with some inclusion of industry perspectives. 2) Next, a literature review was conducted in eight research databases using the following keywords (in title, abstract, and index terms): Electronic lab notebooks OR electronic lab notebook OR electronic laboratory notebooks OR electronic laboratory notebook OR e-notebook* OR eln platform. Results of these two steps were reviewed for relevance, and then reviewed and labeled by themes related to research data management, literature use, and collaboration, as well as additional themes that were addressed. Platforms noted multiple times within the review were added to a table that addressed some key initial priorities (cost, subject area, academic/industry focus). A handout listing these and some additional ELNs discussed with references discussing each was created from the review results. Finally, an open Zotero group and library is linked from the poster to share the full list of review citations. RESULTS: The review of online postings and research literature uncovered a variety of themes of interest related to using ELN, for academic institution researchers (and industry researchers) in health and life sciences. These themes include the areas of focus for this review: research data management facilitation, collaboration, and incorporation of research literature in laboratory notes and workflow. Within each of these, further aspects are described. An additional theme uncovered that is not described in detail in the poster is educational use of ELN. DISCUSSION: This review of ELN focuses on the perspectives of laboratory researchers in academic institutions, focusing on researchers in health and life sciences, with inclusion of articles and view points from industry researchers. Key benefits of ELN platforms for academic researchers include increased productivity, and support for Good Lab Practices (GLP) and reproducibility of results. Additional priorities include: free or lower cost platforms and open source or flexible platforms that lend themselves to customization for tool and software integration, and for multi-disciplinary use. Platforms that can be used to collect, document and track, analyze, store, and create archival files for multiple data formats are important. The ability to collaborate with others, including permission-level settings and security for online data and file sharing is significant, as is support for overall project and lab management (including equipment and sample tracking). Improved searching of data and files, including use of standardized or customized metadata is a benefit of ELNs, as is the ability to include links to or files for related resources, such as research literature and protocols. Educational uses of ELN were also frequently found in the research literature review results. Concerns include loss or corruption of data and difficulty of using electronic devices in some lab environments. Industry researchers have a stronger focus on Quality Control, Quality Assurance, regulatory compliance features, and Intellectual Property claim support. Limitations: This review began with a narrow understanding of the topic and thus the literature search did not include all terms that could be used. Also, coding would increase in effectiveness if conducted more than one time and by more than one reviewer. Next Steps: Further plans for this project include development of a survey to explore use of and interest in ELN at the author’s institution, with possible extension to other institutions – to further determine best avenues for library and/or general institutional support in the use of ELN by students and researchers in the academic environment and in collaboration with industry.