Data capture versus data archiving

The commonest complaint that I hear whenever electronic lab notebooks (ELNs) or laboratory information management systems (LIMS) are discussed is that it doubles the workload. People who work in labs enjoy the convenience of their paper notebooks. They perform an action or a process occurs – they write a note. A machine generates a photo – they tear it off and paste it in. Transferring that information to a digital archive is a pain: they have to sit down at a computer with their lab book, scan and upload images, enter text into form fields and so on.

I sympathise, absolutely. At present, data capture and data archiving are for most people, disconnected processes. Their only comfort is that smart people are working on these problems. One day, laboratory equipment will emit data in machine-readable format directly to digital archives, lab members will carry PDA-like devices and note-taking as we know it will become a relic of the past. That day is some way off, but it will come.

As to why they should invest time in archiving data – just answer these questions:

  • Is your paper notebook searchable?
  • Can other people use old records from your paper notebook to do anything practical?
  • For that matter, can you?
  • Imagine that you have just moved to a new lab and none of your predecessors, now moved on and not contactable, left any record of their activity – how would you feel?

These are questions for individuals, but also I feel for a training system (academia) that encourages individual prowess over community spirit.

3 thoughts on “Data capture versus data archiving

  1. That last line seems somewhat counter intuitive doesn’t it. One would think that science was built on the knowledge of others, but we’ve lost that somewhere

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  3. Neil,

    You might be interested to take a look at e-CAT, Axiope’s new online lab notebook. Beta testing started today. On the revamped website You can watch the two introductory videos, read about e-CAT’s features, and see a bit of the history and our aims for e-CAT from the inaugural blog post. And thanks for your many interesting posts about ELNs and related issues over the past year — I have followed them with great interest!

    Rory Macneil

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