The survey results are in! Duke user feedback on the LabArchives electronic notebook

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In April 2019, Duke announced a new cloud-based option for managing and storing research documentation and data, with an enterprise license for the LabArchives electronic research notebook. One year later, we followed up with the 1486 Duke researchers who had tried LabArchives, and asked for their feedback through a user survey.  From the 212 survey responses collected, we share your colleagues’ responses on both the advantages and limitations of the LabArchives electronic research notebooks and ideas for improvement.

Survey respondents represented wide-range of research roles. The 212 survey participants represented a range of research roles: faculty (10.8%), staff (27.8%), postdocs (21.2%), graduate students (30%), and undergraduate students (6.6%). Although the survey was targeted to all Duke LabArchives users, those who responded were mostly experienced users, having used LabArchives for 3 months or longer (54.7%).

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Most respondents reported a positive experience with LabArchives.  73.1% of respondents indicated their overall experience with LabArchives was extremely or moderately good. 76.9% of respondents indicated that they would definitely or probably continue to keep using LabArchives. Most survey participants also indicated that good data management practices were facilitated with the use of LabArchives.  For example, participants who indicated they had evaluated these practices found them to be “somewhat or much easier with LabArchives,” at the following percentages: attaching data files (66.1%), entering daily notes/documentation (54.4%), finding specific data sets in another person’s notebook (75.3%), finding one’s own data sets (70.6%), exporting notes and data (60.8%), keeping track of data that contributes to a publication (64.4%), tracking who contributed content/made edits in the notebook (73.4%), and sharing data/documentation with collaborators (76.5%).

Graph displaying participant feedback of overall experience

There are some challenges when using LabArchives.  Although most respondents characterized their overall experience with LabArchives as positive, some respondents found that the LabArchives workflow and user interface would not fit their needs, especially for those who write computer programs, or prefer an electronic option that can sync their content onto their computer desktops.  Many users noted that LabArchives stores and transfers low volumes of small files easily (<250MB), but storing larger, or numerous files is slower and less manageable, and it cannot handle files that are above ~15GB at all. Also, some users expressed frustration with trying to learn and integrate a LabArchives notebook with the multiple other electronic tools and software systems that they may already use in their research workflow. Some users (22% of respondents) indicated that Duke’s classification of LabArchives as a system that is not approved to store sensitive data (including protected health information) was a barrier to adoption.

Graph displaying participant's interest in continuing use

One quick tip for Duke LabArchives users.  As a security feature, LabArchives users will be logged out of their notebook if the notebook has not been accessed within 2 hr. Some users reported experiencing more frequent timeouts (less than 2hr) when using their LabArchives notebook. If this is a problem for you, try these strategies:

  1. Bookmark the unique Duke URL, and do not use mynotebook.labarchives.com to open different notebook pages on separate browser tabs
  2. When performing multi-factor authentication, choose to have the system remember you for 72 hours
  3. Register for Duke Unlock if your device and operating system can use unique biometric identifiers rather than a password for multi-factor authentication

New tools to help digitize handwritten notes, suggested from survey participants.  We also wanted to share some interesting options that researchers told us about. There are tools that allow hand-written notes to be indexed and transferred into an electronic notebook as a PDF, through a tablet and stylus (e.g. GoodNotes), or through a special pen and paper system (e.g. Rocketbook).  Both types of tools require good penmanship in order to fully index the notes, but regardless, provide a potential hybrid option for people that want to continue to hand-write their daily documentation, and also want a digital, and searchable copy of those handwritten notes in their electronic notebooks.

We are working to improve implementation of LabArchives for Duke researchers.  Our team communicates with LabArchives, support@labarchives.com, to suggest helpful new features and updates as we hear about them from you, and we encourage users to communicate directly with LabArchives too!  These communications help LabArchives better understand the gaps and challenges researchers encounter, so they can incorporate user feedback into future updates.  The DOSI-ASIST team offers demos to individual research teams, one-on-one consultation, and departments (asist@duke.edu).  You may also check out Duke’s institutional notebook, LabArchives-at-Duke Support or the DOSI-LabArchives webpage for additional information: https://dosi.duke.edu/labarchives.  And LabArchives also offers workshops, and individual consultation and support as well. 

Learn more from researchers using LabArchives.  On July 29, LabArchives hosted a Virtual User Group for Researchers.  The speakers included scientists from several academic institutions, including Maria Dennis, Research Analyst in the Permar Lab at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute.  Maria Dennis, and fellow panelists, shared their advice on how they've set-up and organized LabArchives notebooks for their research groups and responded to a wide range of attendee questions on data management practices, widgets, and workflows with large data-sets.  If you missed the event, you can view a recording of the meeting in Duke’s institutional LabArchives notebook.