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LabArchives: Store and organize your research data online
April 27, 2016
Garry Zacheiss and Katherine McNeill
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Researcher in lab
IMAGE: BIGSTOCK

Researchers have become increasingly interested in the benefits of Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELNs). ELNs enable researchers to organize and store experimental procedures, protocols, and data; information is searchable within and across notebooks. Additional advantages include security and 24x7 availability.

An ELN or portions of an ELN can be shared with colleagues at MIT and beyond, fostering collaborative research.

Introducing LabArchives

Information Systems and Technology (IS&T) and the MIT Libraries have received inquiries about ELN options at the Institute. In response, MIT recently purchased a three-year enterprise license for LabArchives. This cloud-based product is available at no cost to MIT faculty, staff, students and affiliates. LabArchives is an approved ELN Service Provider for Internet2 (internet2.edu) member universities.

LabArchives can be used for a range of projects and is not restricted to those in a laboratory research environment. That said, LabArchives is optimal for those wanting to document research procedures/protocols or store research data during the active phase of research. Need to outline next steps for your team or refer to a procedure for setting up equipment? LabArchives can be a central, accessible platform.

Key features include:

  • Ability to upload and store files – including text, tables, images, spreadsheets, and attachments – in their original format
  • Ability to create standard ELN formats and templates for your research group
  • Compatibility across multiple platforms, including mobile devices
  • Secure storage of data on LabArchives servers: multiple redundancy ensures 24x7 data availability
  • Ability to share information within your lab and invite collaborators from outside of MIT to join your ELN

LabArchives and the research workflow

For those needing to meet federal agencies’ requirements for data management plans, LabArchives can facilitate compliance. Data entered in a LabArchives notebook is automatically date- and time-stamped, preserving every version of a lab’s data entries, showing who completed the work and when it was done. Access rights are controlled by your group administrator and can be modified to suit the needs of individual researchers or contributors.

LabArchives is also compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). For guidance on HIPAA, see https://couhes.mit.edu/hippa/hipaa-guidance-document.

LabArchives provides many other built-in features. An advanced search lets you search selected notebooks or across all of your notebooks, enhancing how you can interact with your data. LabArchives’ Widgets – interactive HTML forms or applications – can be tailored for your specific experiment. The Database Widget, for example, can be customized for a lab inventory or a table of experimental results data.

The sketch and annotation tool lets you draw sketches and annotate images you’ve added to your notebook. LabArchives lets you create or edit Microsoft Office documents within your notebook and is fully integrated with Google Docs and Sheets. Integration with Dropbox is on LabArchives’ roadmap; for now, Dropbox users can add links to items in Dropbox.

Signing up and support

To use MIT’s enterprise LabArchives license, go to http://labarchives.mit.edu, authenticate via Touchstone, and then activate an enterprise account.

IS&T can provide support in customizing lab notebooks for early adopters at MIT. To set up a consultation, ask questions or provide feedback, send a message to labarchives-support@mit.edu. As a partner, Data Management Services in the MIT Libraries (see http://libraries.mit.edu/data-management), can point you to resources for managing your data throughout the research life cycle. In particular, Libraries’ staff can advise you on options for storing and sharing your data once you’ve completed your project, such as moving data from LabArchives to a long-term repository.    

There are also several online resources to help you get started: