Reflections on Repository Fringe 15: 5 Positive Parallels between Data Repositories and Electronic Lab Notebooks

Today we are delighted to share a new guest post from Rory Macneil, from Research Space, who was attending and presenting at Repository Fringe 2015 last week in Edinburgh and shares his reflections on the event.

Dr David Prosser, Executive Director of RLUK speaking at Repository Fringe 2015

Dr David Prosser, Executive Director of RLUK speaking at Repository Fringe 2015

“We have failed to engage researchers adequately and I think that the busyness of academics is an insufficient reason to explain that. So why have we failed to engage and to get academics to see this as something they should do on a daily basis?”

So said David Prosser near the beginning of his opening remarks at #rfinge15. It strikes me that until recently the same could have been said about electronic lab notebooks. The stories I heard at #rfringe15 about difficulties in getting academics to use repositories resonated with the same difficulties faced in encouraging uptake of ELNs.

The recent upsurge in interest among academic researchers in ELNs is, I think, a positive sign for increased uptake of repositories. I’ve described below five things repositories and electronic notebooks have in common, after which I reflect on the implications for the future of both.

1. Drivers

Funder requirements to make public and preserve data are driving interest among academic researchers in both electronic lab notebooks and repositories.

2. Benefits

At the Tuesday afternoon breakout session led by Claire Knowles we came up with two ‘use cases’ for using repositories that are sure to resonate with at least some academics, preservation of data that has the potential to get lost, and discovery by other researchers who might otherwise never come across the research related to which data relates. The first is a major driver for uptake of electronic lab notebooks, and the second is a secondary driver.

3. Workflows

Collection, analysis and presentation of data are at the heart of existing researcher workflows. Both electronic lab notebooks and repositories fit into, and enhance, those workflows without causing extensive disruption to them or requiring fundamental changes in workflows.

4. Synergies

Electronic lab notebooks and repositories complement and reinforce each other. ELNs may in future come to be seen as the ‘repository’s friend’ because data in ELNs is already available, and structured, and hence it’s easier and more natural for researchers using an ELN to deposit their data into a repository. And researchers who use ELNs are more likely to understand the benefits of depositing their data into a repository.

5. The institutional context

Research data managers/data librarians have taken the lead in developing repositories and repository services, and in introducing researchers to repositories. Increasingly they are taking the lead in introducing researchers to ELNs, in terms of evaluating them, procuring them, and assisting with their introduction, including providing and/or procuring training with ELNs. As a result the researcher experience of discovering and using repositories and ELNs is quite similar.

Concluding Thoughts

The title of David Prosser’s talk, “Fulfilling their potential: is it time for institutional repositories to take centre stage?”, is more optimistic than his quote cited at the opening of this post. I share this optimism, because of the broader picture of accelerating introduction of new tools and technologies into evolving researcher workflows, and the increasing relevance of repositories to the day to day needs of researchers. Thinking about ELNs side by side with repositories highlights key trends in the broader picture and also brings out ways in which ELNs and repositories complement and reinforce each other.

Many thanks to Rory for his take on last weeks Repository Fringe 2015. Remember, if you would like to share your own reflections on the event, or if would like us to link to your blog post or coverage of the event just get in touch via email or via the comments below.

We’ll have a round up post coming soon, in the mean time why not browse the pictures from the event on Flickr, or explore or search the Twitter archive for #rfringe15, and if you haven’t already completed our feedback survey please do – we really value your ideas and comments.

I am Digital Education Manager and Service Manager at EDINA, a role I share with my colleague Lorna Campbell. I was previously Social Media Officer for EDINA working across all projects and services. I am interested in the opportunities within teaching and learning for film, video, sound and all forms of multimedia, as well as social media, crowdsourcing and related new technologies.

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