Improving the Efficiency of Laboratories by Digitizing Lab Notebooks

by | Published on Oct 23, 2020 | Document Conversion / Scanning Services

Digitization of documents into digital files with the help of document scanning services improves efficiency and workflow in a business organization. It also helps in reducing physical space requirement and ensures a much quicker document search and retrieval of data. With the drastic increase in the types of data and data formats, the need to integrate and share data across systems has become vital.

Digitization in laboratories has not advanced like other industries. However, experts are now rethinking how to improve the efficiency in the lab. Laboratories must be able to access and share documents so as to stay on the cutting edge of technological innovation. Lab notes should be scanned in high-quality greyscale or color resolution and stored safely; this would enable quick sharing of data when required. Scanning lab notes simply involves putting the notebook under a specialized book scanner, and imaging each page separately. But it is labor-intensive and one should also know how to use the technology. With digitization of documents, your work is not only secure but also protected from theft, damage and misplacement or loss of data.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, the University of Minnesota in St Paul was closed and plant pathologist Linda Kinkel’s laboratory team continued with tasks that they could do from their home. One way of doing this was by digitizing their team’s 30-year-old collection of paper lab notebooks. According to the technician Andrew Mann, they wanted access to their students’ experiments in order to write grants and plan further experiments.

Digitized lab notes can be stored and preserved from floods, fires and theft. Digitizing lab notes makes the text more readable and quickly accessible, and searchable.

The demand for digitization has increased with the spread of COVID-19. According to Mann, the shutdown of labs due to the pandemic has shown the significance of having digital documents that can be accessed remotely.

Use of Smartphones to Digitize

Mann and his colleagues use smartphones to digitize their lab notebooks and the collection include many dozens of bound, standard-sized lab notebooks with yellow paper and red covers, and several other books that the team took home when the lab was shut down at the start of the pandemic. Scanning each page is not easy and it takes a lot of time but since everyone had a smartphone with them, scanning was much easier.

Scanning using smartphones requires an app and the two main considerations that need to be considered while choosing an app are reliability and language specificity of its Optical Character Recognition software, if it has this feature. This is because accuracy is very important while scanning. Another important consideration is how well the app can automatically crop the images. There are several apps available but Adobe Scan is a popular one that offers OCR in 19 languages. Apple’s Notes App is also a good app that offers cropping of the images but it does not have OCR. Microsoft Office Lens and Genius Scan are some of the other apps that can be used for scanning. However, the first and last page of lab notes cannot be scanned using a smartphone because the spine is large so that those pages don’t lie flat. So, this requires some heavy-duty digitization.

Intensive Digitization Plan

Digitization using smartphones is easy but for intensive scanning projects, scanners have to be used. Glenn Lockwood, a computer scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California bought a scanner to digitize his records. A computer scientist, all of his records are saved in digital format but his notebooks from graduate works were in physical format with carbon copies. Lockwood decided to scan these unbound carbon copies also and that process is still going on. Good quality scanners with high resolutions are expensive and buying a cheap one wouldn’t work because some of the works were written with pencil on this note book and the scans wouldn’t be legible. Scanning pages that are consistent and organized is a quick process whereas digitization of taped in materials and uneven pages is a daunting task.

Using Outsourced Scanning Services

There are many scanning companies in the USA that offer accurate digitization. They also offer OCR and other ancillary services like quality attachment, metadata attachment and even shredding of confidential data. These providers have experts in scanning various materials like historical books, catalogues, journals etc. To ensure top notch quality, they use advanced equipment that is designed to scan delicate papers. These experts are also trained to handle fragile paper and bindings, remove staples and taped items, straighten the creases on the papers etc. Once the paper documents are properly prepped, the vendor can convert the file into any digital format like PDF, TIFF, JPEG or any other format according to the requirement of the clients.

Laboratories can scan lab notebooks to gain significant benefits from having this information available electronically. It creates a backup copy of the information, enables efficient retrieval of documents, and helps the research teams find information from legacy research and development of drug trials that could lead to new breakthroughs. A reliable document scanning company can help in proper conversion of data without any loss of data or damage. They have employees who are trained to handle documents carefully, and ensure quick completion of the project.

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