A short plea why one needs (electronic) laboratory notebooks, and a summary of what the LabInform ELN makes different and why it may worth considering.

The case for (electronic) labbooks

To begin with some probably inconvenient truths: Labbooks need not be electronic, not even in the “digital age” we are living in. Furthermore, an ELN is clearly not the solution to all problems regarding reproducibility and quality of research, nor is it a key component of “research data management”. Just don’t confuse the tool with the solution.

Documenting all aspects of the research process on all the different stages of the research as well as the data life cycles is, however, a crucial aspect of the scientific method. As such, scientific recordkeeping is therefore crucial for reproducible research and a key aspect of research data management.

Labbooks, as their name suggests, are the primary devices scientists and others involved carry “in the field” when recording data. Hence, the primary purpose of labbooks is to document data acquisition, less so documenting data analysis and other aspects of the data life cycle. Sounds obvious, is obvious, but has tremendous impact on the criteria applied to any form of (electronic) labbook. Perhaps most crucial are that labbooks need to be robust, resilient, and simple to use, while being flexible enough to adapt to the needs of the individual researchers. For a more detailed discussion, have a look at the manuscript describing the LabInform ELN.

Why another open-source ELN?

There are and have been clearly some excellent open-source ELN solutions available, besides commercial solutions that all have their merits. Currently (end of 2022), probably the most prominent open-source ELNs are elabFTW, openBIS, and Chemotion.

So why yet another open-source ELN? What makes the LabInform ELN different? We believe that it fills a gap left by the other solutions we are aware of. Besides that, isn’t it part of science to share one’s ideas and thoughts hoping that they may be useful for others to build upon? Therefore, we not only present an open-source ELN that we think is useful for others as well, but we describe in more detail all the underlying decisions and design principles. Eventually, every implementation is an ephemeral and unimportant detail. What matters are the underlying ideas and structures – and of course their implementation in a working system.

Enough said, take a look at the concepts of the LabInform ELN described on the next page – or simply hit the “next” button below – and convince yourself.