Encouraging and Facilitating Laboratory Scientists to Curate at Source
Computers and computation have become essential to scientific activity and significant amounts of data are now captured digitally or even “born digital”. Consequently, there is more and more incentive to capture the full experiment records using digital tools, such as Electronic Laboratory Notebooks (ELNs), to enable the effective linking and publication of experiment design and methods with the digital data that is generated as a result. Inclusion of metadata for experiment records helps with providing access, effective curation, improving search, and providing context, and further enables effective sharing, collaboration, and reuse.
Regrettably, just providing researchers with the facility to add metadata to their experiment records does not mean that they will make use of it, or if they do, that the metadata they add will be relevant and useful. Our research has clearly indicated that researchers need support and tools to encourage them to create effective metadata. Tools, such as ELNs, provide an opportunity to encourage researchers to curate their records during their creation, but can also add extra value, by making use of the metadata that is generated to provide capabilities for research management and Open Science that extend far beyond what is possible with paper notebooks.
The Southampton Chemical Information group, has, for over fifteen years, investigated the use of the Web and other tools for the collection, curation, dissemination, reuse, and exploitation of scientific data and information. As part of this activity we have developed a number of ELNs, but a primary concern has been how best to ensure that the future development of such tools is both usable and useful to researchers and their communities, with a focus on curation at source. In this paper, we describe a number of user research and user studies to help answer questions about how our community makes use of tools and how we can better facilitate the capture and curation of experiment records and the related resources.
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