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Objective: As electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) capability continues to expand, more researchers are turning to this digital format. The University of Massachusetts Medical School developed new guidelines to outline the retention and transferal of ELNs. How do other universities approach the retention and transferal of laboratory notebooks, including ELNs?

Methods: The websites of 25 universities were searched for policies or guidelines on laboratory notebook retention and transferal. A textual analysis of the policies was performed to find common themes.

Results: Information on the retention and transferal of laboratory notebooks was found in record retention and research data policies/guidelines. Out of the 25 institutional websites searched, 16 policies/guidelines on research notebook retention were found and 10 institutions had policies/guidelines on transferring research notebooks when a researcher leaves the university. Only one policy had a retention recommendation for storage location specific to electronic media, including laboratory notebooks, that did not apply to its paper counterparts, the remaining policies either explicitly include multiple forms and media or do not mention multiple formats for research records at all. The minimum number of years of retention for research notebooks ranged from immediately after report completion to 7 years after completing the research with the possibility of extension depending on a wide range of external requirements. Most research notebook transferal policies and guidelines required associated researchers and students to request permission from their principal investigator (PI) before taking a copy of the notebook. Most institutions with policies also seek to retain access to research notebooks when a PI leaves an institution to protect intellectual property and respond to any cases of scientific misconduct or conflict of interest.

Conclusions: Other universities have a range of approaches for the retention and transferal of laboratory notebooks, but most provide the same recommendations for both electronic and physical laboratory notebooks in their research data or record retention policies/guidelines.


Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN), Retention, Offboarding, Policy, Research University

Data Availability

Data available as supplementary file.


Acknowledgments: Thank you to Byron Deane from University of Massachusetts Medical School Information Technology team for your ongoing support of this project and lending your expertise to develop the UMMS electronic lab notebook ownership and user access guidelines. Thank you to Sally Gore and Lisa Palmer for reviewing the findings of this survey and the initial report and to Kim MacKenzie and Robyn Gray for proofreading the manuscript. Disclosures: The author reports no conflict of interest. The substance of this article is based upon a poster presentation at RDAP Summit 2020: “Finding Connections in Electronic Laboratory Notebook Retention and Transferal Policies” available at https://osf.io/42tj9.

Corresponding Author

Catherine Tess Grynoch, Lamar Soutter Library, University of Massachusetts Medical School, 55 Lake Ave North, Worcester, MA 01655;tess.grynoch@umassmed.edu

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Copyright: © 2021 Grynoch. This is an open access article licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

Creative Commons License

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

ElectronicLabNotebookRetentionPolicies_Share.xlsx (17 kB)
Electronic Lab Notebook Retention Policies Data

AppendixA_1190.pdf (600 kB)
UMMS Electronic Lab Notebook Ownership & User Access Guidelines

AppendixB_1190.pdf (587 kB)
Full List of Policies Found