What are the benefits of using an ELN?

The UW-Madison site licensed version of LabArchives ELN offers numerous advantages over not only traditional paper notebooks, but also other software packages and services that you may be using to keep track of research. Some of the benefits are listed below.
  • Supported UW-Madison service with security and legal protections in place
  • Unlimited data storage (4GB max per individual file)
  • Securely stores your notebooks, including attached data, in redundant geographic locations
  • Enables collaboration within research groups and with external collaborators
  • Supports multiple user roles and customized permissions for viewing and editing folders, notebooks, and notebook entries
  • Allows access over the Internet on a variety of devices
  • Supports use of templates, protocols, and processes by labs
  • Integrates with Microsoft Office (Windows only), Google docs, ChemDoodle, PubMed, and GraphPad Prism
  • Stores many file types, including images, video, spreadsheets, etc.
  • Allows signing, file versioning, and activity tracking
  • Assists in compliance with the UW-Madison Policy on Data Stewardship, Access, and Retention

Why should I use the ELN instead of Box or Google Drive?

Using the ELN to store your digital research data instead of Box or Google Drive offers a number of enhanced features. In fact, you can integrate certain Google services into the ELN.
  • Additional legal and security protections
  • Permanency of digital data
  • Auditability
  • Assists in compliance with UW, State, Federal policies
  • Searchability
  • Signing and Witnessing
  • Customization features such as templates, widgets, protocols
  • Integration with other software and services

How will I access my notebooks if there is an outage or loss of connectivity?

The LabArchives service has been in use at several higher education institutions and has a record of high availability. However, your access to LabArchives, like other web-based services, is dependent on Internet connectivity. If you are offline, or the LabArchives service is down, you will not be able to edit or access the most recent version of your notebooks. Therefore, it is recommended that you establish a backup strategy that includes exporting and archiving notebooks (both PDF and HTML formats can be exported). In addition, keeping secondary copies of data and other types of files in another location may ensure your access to critical files in the event of an outage. Note that these are good backup strategies even if no outages occur.

 How long can I count on the ELN service being available?

The campus has a multi-year site license for the LabArchives service. During the initial years of the service, a campus ELN governance group will evaluate how well the ELN service fits the needs of researchers and determine future funding and support models. The UW-Madison has been piloting ELNs for a number of years and we are currently part of a trend of site license purchases by research institutions. It is very likely that ELNs are here to stay, provided they offer benefits to researchers.

Are there circumstances under which there might be a cost for using the ELN?

This is still unknown at this time but will likely depend on the future of campus centralized funding for the service. 

How can I comply with lab notebook retention requirements such as those of external funders or in the UW-Madison Policy on Data Stewardship, Access, and Retention using the ELN?

Unlike paper lab notebooks that can be stored on a shelf indefinitely, maintaining a long-term archive of ELN activity will require new ways of managing electronic files. The ELN service team is investigating resources for hosting a backup of all UW-Madison ELN data on campus in the future. However, it always a good practice for individual labs to keep archival copies of exports from the ELN (in addition to copies of data files attached to the ELN) in secure locations to ensure they are able to comply with retention requirements. As mentioned above, both HTML and PDF versions of lab notebooks can be exported from the ELN.

What if I have data files that are too numerous or large to upload?

The maximum file size for upload to the LabArchives ELN is 4GB. To include larger files in your ELN document, you will need to store them elsewhere and link to them from an ELN entry. It may be useful to include information about the server location and file names in the ELN entries that point to linked files. Linked files are not protected or verified by the LabArchives software, so policies should be set in place to ensure that linked files are never changed or moved.

Is the ELN only for labs or can individuals and research groups that do not work in labs or do science use it, too?

The ELN can be used by any individual or research group under the direction of a Principal Investigator during the research process. It is essentially a tool for collaborative work, uploading and sharing files, and documenting the research process and may be useful for keeping track of research workflows and data in many disciplines.