More about Electronic Lab Notebooks

Electronic lab notebooks (ELNs) offer a digital alternative to the traditional paper records typically kept by researchers who work in labs.

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'Increasingly, the information written or pasted into a traditional laboratory notebook is merely an index or commentary on a vast diversity of experimental data held in digital form. It is therefore anachronistic, to say the least, that the key to this wealth of digital data is held in analogue form. The result is not only the bulky and vulnerable physical records, but the lost opportunity to search, mash-up and cross-analyse data from different time points and methodologies. In an ideal world, we’d each have a tablet that replaced our lab notebook by linking seamlessly to all the relevant data sources in their native format, with the key intermediating record living in the cloud for longevity and portability.'


- Prof William James, Head of Department, Sir William Dunn School of Pathology

Electronic lab notebooks offer a wide range of potential benefits:

  • They are easily searchable
  • They can hold research data files alongside (and linked to) research records
  • They can be easier to read than paper notebooks - no struggling with messy handwriting
  • They are automatically backed up
  • They require far less physical storage space than paper notebooks
  • Researchers can access their notebooks from anywhere in the world via a web browser
  • Notebooks can be shared with selected colleagues and collaborators
  • The provenance of information (who created it and when) is automatically recorded
  • Details of any edits are also recorded, and a full version history is retained (this information may be needed to defend a patent or resolve a publishing dispute, and ensures compliance with CFR Part 11)
  • They offer a secure system for storing IP and personal or other sensitive data, allowing researchers to meet their GDPR obligations
  • In the unlikely event of a security breach through a system fault, the researcher is protected by the contract (including penalty clauses) with the service provider
  • ELNs are designed for research - and hence they provide specialist tools such as inventory management, the ability to search for chemical formulas, and integration with other tools

All members of the University have free access to the LabArchives electronic lab notebook service.

LabArchives is providing the service in partnership with the University. The vendor will support and train research groups on request, and the University will form a community of academics and research support staff to develop technical expertise and good practice. The University contract owner will monitor performance, and keep a log of bugs and feature requests. In this way, research staff will be able to influence the product roadmap.

  • The University's negotiating power means it is well placed to secure a better price and a custom service
  • The service is provided under a University contract, relieving individual research groups of the need to ensure all key requirements are met
  • Security controls are regularly reviewed
  • Notebooks are in one place over the long term, thus avoiding fragmentation of the research record

The service was originally funded by the Research IT board for two years. Usage of and interest in the service was monitored over this period, and it has subsequently been confirmed that LabArchives ELN provision will continue from 2020 for the foreseeable future. Costs will be split across academic divisions each year, based on users and usage. The service will continue to be free at the point of use for everyone with an Oxford SSO.

Research groups will be warned in good time if the central service is ever discontinued. At this point, research groups will be responsible for exporting and storing their own notebooks, or for negotiating their own ongoing deal with LabArchives. Guidance for each of these options will be provided if they become necessary.

  • Freely available to all University members via SSO
  • Software hosted with AWS London
  • Notebook entries can be uploaded or written using an in-browser editor
  • All file types are accepted, with in-browser viewers for many
  • 250MB single file upload limit, with unlimited storage per account
  • Notebook owners and administrators have fine-grained control over who can access what: anything from a single entry to a whole notebook can be shared
  • Notebook owners can invite external guest users
  • Group notebooks can be created for SOPs, protocols, papers, collaborative projects, etc.
  • A wide range of tools and widgets are available, including:
    • Acid and base molarity calculator
    • Acidity of a liquid calculator
    • Bacterial growth calculator
    • Buffer calculator
    • Chemical inventor
    • Chemical sketcher
    • Dilution calculator
    • DNA-RNA calculator
    • Density of a liquid calculator
    • Freezer box inventory management tool
    • Lab recipes calculator
    • Molarity calculator
    • Molecular weight calculator
    • PCR calculator
    • Periodic table
    • Plasmid database
    • Radioactivity calculator
    • Scientific calculator
    • Unit converter
  • Flexible framework for creating and sharing custom widgets
  • Notebooks can be exported at any time, and provenance of content (when and by whom it was written) can still be proved