When I was but a wee undergrad all lab work had to be diligently recorded in a lab notebook. Not on a piece of paper, even if for later transcription into the notebook. Directly in the notebook. That was how it was done.
When I was a slightly older graduate student TAing (demonstrating we called it) in the undergrad labs, that was the mantra I preached. Thou shalt record all in the lab notebook. Thou shalt not write on pieces of paper. Writing on a filter paper is right out. And of course I obeyed these commandments in my own lab work.
When I was a postdoc, ditto.
So when I started my own lab, that was how things were to be done.
Times are changing. Many of the instruments we now use are controlled by computers, so the data is on the computer. Other data is entered into tables, plots, spreadsheets on lab computers. The people entering science now are more comfortable typing than writing. The days are numbered for the traditional lab notebook.
Hence the rise of electronic lab notebooks (ELN's). ELN's promise all kinds of wonders. Data from instruments ported directly into the ELN. Notes typed directly in and linked to the data. All data and notes searchable! This last is a BIG DEAL. Ask anyone who has had to search through an old lab notebook (theirs or someone else's) for something. A search function is invaluable.
I'd like to move my lab into the electronic era. Problem is, ELN's are expensive. Or use proprietary formats for saving the data. Or are designed for large organizations, not a small academic lab. Or all three. Yes, there are some free ELN's out there, but such are of uncertain future (not that any system is guaranteed to be around for ever).
So what to do? I've poked around and solicited opinions. Aside from ELN's, some people use database programs such as Filemaker Pro with a template designed for lab note taking and data integration. Bento, a no frills database program made by Filemaker, looks like a potential option for Mac-based labs. Of course these are more file management options than true data integration approaches. Another option is a wiki. Or even a WordPress site optimized for lab data storage and sharing.
Any of these could work, but of course I don't want to adopt an option that turns out to be a pain in the butt or is later found to be too limited. And yes, I am aware of potential intellectual property issues with "improper" lab notebook/data storage.
So I'm asking for input. What have you used or tried? What options have you heard about? Let me, and any interested readers, know by posting a comment.