What is a Digital Lab Notebook (DLN)?

Excerpt from a Leonardo da Vinci notebook

A Digital Lab Notebook (DLN) serves the same function as a written scientist’s lab notebook before the digital age. A DLN associated with a digital representation provides transparency, enabling people to assess its reliability for their own research purposes. More…

DLN Tool Suite

Download the Digital Lab Notebook Tools

CHI has released Beta versions of the first two tools in the Digital Lab Notebook software suite to simplify the collection and management of scientifically reliable metadata. Learn more and download the tools.

2017 NEH Grant Announcement

On December 13, 2017, the National Endowment for the Humanities announced $12.8 million in grants to 253 humanities projects, including this grant to CHI. See the NEH press release. The specific grant to CHI is described in a PDF file with the NEH list of humanities projects that were awarded grants.

Related Grant: “Applying Scientific Rigor to Photogrammetric 3D Documentation for Cultural Heritage and Natural Science Materials”

In collaboration with several partner consultants and technical advisors, in 2016 CHI was awarded a grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) that will produce advanced metadata and knowledge management tools to record a “Digital Lab Notebook” (DLN), describing the means and context of 3D photogrammetric data capture. More…

Related Grant: “Data Sustainability and Advanced Metadata Management for Scientific Imaging”

This pilot grant project, completed in December 2015, was to evaluate the usability and desirability for subsequent adoption of a new metadata and knowledge management methodology. The project envisioned a Digital Lab Notebook that takes the form of a user-friendly toolkit to document not only the algorithmic transformation of photographic data, but also the context in which the photographs were created. More…

Related Paper: “A Context Metadata Collection and Management Tool for Computational Photography Projects”

Top level interface for the DLN:CaptureContext tool, version 1

This paper, presented by CHI at the Archiving 2017 conference in Riga, Latvia, describes the first module of an advanced set of metadata and knowledge management tools to record a Digital Lab Notebook. Learn more and download the PDF paper.

White Paper: “Data Sustainability and Advanced Metadata Management for Scientific Imaging”

Cover of the Data Sustainability white paper

At the conclusion of the NEH Start-up grant, CHI produced a white paper describing the outcome of the project: a user-friendly software toolkit that greatly simplifies methods of building a Digital Lab Notebook (DLN), an essential component of digital scientific imaging. Read the paper.

Related Earlier Publications

See these earlier CHI publications for more information pertaining to the Digital Lab Notebook.

NEH logo

Preservation and Access Research and Development Grant

The Democratization of Scientific Imaging through Metadata Management and Archival Submission Support

Contents:  Project Description  Impact  Software Tools  Collaborators  

Conceptual illustration of the Digital Lab Notebook: user input information about imaging projects produces Linked Open Data

Conceptual illustration of the Digital Lab Notebook: user input information about imaging projects produces Linked Open Data

This is a 2-1/2 year project that runs from January 2018 to June 2020.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded a Tier II, Advanced Implementation Research and Development, Preservation and Access Grant of $339,295.00 to Cultural Heritage Imaging (CHI) and its grant partner, the Centre for Cultural Informatics of ICS FORTH. The grant award was announced by NEH on December 13, 2017.

Project Description

This project supports the development and enhancement of internationalized open source software tools for the collection, management, archiving, and sharing of cultural heritage imaging data and associated metadata.

When a photographer captures a sequence of images for use with computational photography, the rigor of scientific imaging requires a record of the means and circumstances surrounding the photographic capture event. This record is the equivalent of a scientist’s “lab notebook.” Our project’s advanced metadata collection software records this context metadata in a “Digital Lab Notebook” (DLN). The purpose of digital surrogates is to reliably represent “real world” subjects in a digital form. The new tools introduce a greatly simplified, nearly automatic method for the photographer to build the DLN. The DLN employs advanced standards-based knowledge management techniques to retain an understanding of important information relationships within the metadata record. The photographer need not know anything about the knowledge management system. The captured photographic sequences and the DLN metadata contain all the information needed to generate advanced 2D and 3D digital surrogates, such as 3D models with texture, and a scientific account of their measurement precision.


Widespread democratization of scientific imaging technology is the goal. The DLN provides data transparency that separates “scientific reliability” from “academic authority.” It permits the documentary work of a local caretaker, who has a camera, learns an imaging workflow, and does it properly, to stand toe-to-toe with the work from the most respected and authoritative sources. When the data is transparent, the quality and legitimacy of the work speaks for itself. That caretaker can know that he or she has passed the gift of humanity’s legacy to the world today and the richness of the human experience to the people of the future.

Computational Photography

The tools are designed to support methods of imaging based on computational photography. These methods include Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI); photogrammetry for 3D model creation; and spectral imaging. The project will also add support for documentary image sets.

Software Tools

Note: The tools are available in the Downloads area of this web site.

Design Principles

The project team recognizes that the design of the software tools must be:

DLN:Capture Context

Top level interface for the DLN:CaptureContext tool, version 1.0 Beta

Top level interface for the DLN:CaptureContext tool, version 1.0 Beta

DLN:Capture Context simplifies user management of a large volume of metadata through a user-friendly interface. This interface expedites user metadata input with a template process. For example, following a one-time entry of the user’s photo equipment and associated metadata, the user creates templates and saves commonly used equipment configurations. The software follows a similar process to help the user record and group metadata related to the locations, institutions, imaging subjects, image rights, and people associated with the photographic data acquisition session. Relevant metadata can be entered to an extent determined by the user, grouped as desired, selected with a mouse click at the time of the capture session, and added to the DLN for a specific set of images. The information is then mapped to the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model and exported as Linked Open Data in XML and RDF formats.

Download DLN:CaptureContext, version 1.0 Beta


Top level interface for the DLN:Inspector tool, version 1.0 Beta

Interface example for the DLN:Inspector tool, version 1.0 Beta

This tool automatically ensures that each image set meets the requirements for high-quality computational photography imaging. These requirements can be checked algorithmically. For example, Inspector can check that aperture does not change across a given image set. The tool will check for image-processing errors, such as sharpening, that should not be applied to photogrammetry or RTI data. This validation step will ensure users are alerted to potential issues in their image sets. Anyone else who wants to reuse these images can easily find this information. Support for spectral data sets will be added.

Download DLN:Inspector, version 1.0 Beta

Archival Submission

The project team is producing a new tool to simplify the creation of archival Submission Information Packages (SIPs). This “SIP Builder” tool will be able to wrap together all the relevant archival data and work products for transmission to a user-selected repository. This includes the originally acquired photographic sequences in archival format, the associated metadata, any subsequently produced digital surrogates, and their derivatives. The SIP Builder tool will have functions for packaging a SIP, unpacking a SIP for extraction of information, merging SIP packages, and repackaging a SIP for archival submission.

Additional Tools and Features

The project team will also create a unification utility to more easily manage the data through all the tools along with an RDF metadata viewer for looking at DLN metadata. The team will also produce a utility to generate additional common metadata formats from the DLN. The project advisors will be instrumental in choosing additional formats to support.

All the software tools will be modified to support internationalization, making it easy for translation to other languages and character sets. The project supports an initial localization into Arabic to aid in the documentation of imperiled heritage sites in North Africa and the Middle East.

FORTH logo



Centre for Cultural Informatics of ICS FORTH

Martin Doerr

Martin is Research Director at the Foundation of Research and Technology – Hellas (FORTH). He is also head of the Centre for Cultural Informatics, an activity of the Information Systems Lab of FORTH-ICS. He has been leading the development of systems for knowledge representation and terminology, metadata, and content management.

Chrysoula Bekiari

Chrysoula is Research and Development Engineer in the Information Systems Laboratory and the Centre for Cultural Informatics of the Institute of Computer Science – Hellas (FORTH). Her background includes knowledge engineering and conceptual modeling, database design, heterogeneous and federated databases, data models, information retrieval, and management and museum information systems.


Erich Leisch, Software Engineer Consultant

Erich is a senior software engineer with FORTH. His professional interests include data modeling and structuring in database design and message specification.

Ronald Bourret, Software Engineer Consultant

Ron is a software consultant, writer, and researcher who has written code in areas as diverse as query engines, scheduling algorithms, XML parsers, and graphics.

Judy Bogart, Senior Technical Writer Consultant

Judy is a senior technical writer and editor who has worked in the software industry for over 30 years, currently with consulting company Expert Support Inc.

Advisors and Technical Experts

The advisors and experts comprise a diverse group of digital heritage leaders and potential users of the tools. They represent libraries, archives, digitization projects, museums, archaeology, computer graphics, and people working with imperiled heritage in the Middle East and North Africa. They will play a large role in setting priorities and outcomes for the project.

Nine people have agreed to serve as members of the Technical Advisory Committee.

Four technical experts have also agreed to support the work of the grant.

Please note: Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.