by Jan Cheetham

The ELN is designed to be a single place to hold the different types of digital data you produce in your research. Now that UW-Madison researchers have unlimited storage on the LabArchives platform, there are no physical limits on the amount of data you include in your ELN notebook. It may be time to take a holistic view of how to manage all those data files in the ELN.

To get a big picture view, it helps to consider the different ways to add data and information to a LabArchives notebook and the options for getting it out again, as a backup copy or to archive it for the long haul. In an ELN system, a notebook consists of essentially three different types of data: notebook pages, attached files, and linked files.



Getting data in

This schematic illustrates the different ways to add data to a notebook: manually uploading it to an attachment entry; typing, pasting, or dragging it into a rich text entry, or using an automated workflow to “push” it from instruments or software into an attachment entry (blue arrows).  Once a data file is attached to an entry, LabArchives keeps track of the file name and versions, including times and dates of changes.

Linking to data

If your data files need to live on an external server outside of the ELN, you can create a link to them from inside a notebook entry. However, if the files move, this link will break.

Getting data out

The green arrows in the diagram represent the export process, which is manual. LabArchives has two types of export packages: Offline Notebook, a zipped folder that includes notebook pages in HTML format plus attached data files (the most recent version only) and Print to PDF, a single PDF file of the pages that includes names and icons of attached files only. Of course, neither option contains a copy of linked files that are stored outside the ELN– only the path to the external files gets recorded in the ELN.

Backing up and archiving notebooks require some planning. There are several factors to consider:

  1. How often will you need to back up your notebook? Which type(s) of export package(s) will be most useful for this?
  2. Where will you store these export package files? Will you also print out paper copies and retain them? Is there a digital repository or data archiving platform you can keep them in for the long term?
  3. Will you keep a backup copy of attached data files outside of the ELN? If yes, you may find that the PDF format is sufficient for periodic backups of your notebook. If no, you may want to have a regular schedule for exporting the Offline Notebook as a backup of both notebook pages and attached data files.
  4. Are the external data files you link to from the ELN in a permanent location? If not, consider moving them into the ELN or storing them in a more permanent location.

For more information

ELN Archiving

Scenarios to help you create an archival and backup plan.

Archiving Electronic Lab Notebooks

Components of a ELN notebook and what information in each needs to be archived.

Manage Your Data with LabArchives

More details about export packages as well as data management tips for sharing, organizing, and documenting data inside the ELN.

 Data Storage and Backup

Storage and backup resources at UW-Madison for exported ELN files.

 Digital Archiving Platforms

A sampling of digital data repositories that may be useful for archiving ELNs