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. CHI’s DLN methodologies and tools are designed to collect all of the information necessary for a scientific lab notebook. More…

$50 suggested donation

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

This CHI project is funded by a Preservation and Access Research and Development grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, beginning January 2018. The 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. 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.


DLN:CaptureContext page

DLN:CaptureContext is one of two tools from the Digital Lab Notebook suite.

See also the download page for the DLN:Inspector tool.

DLN:CaptureContext 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.

1. Download the Free and Open Source DLN:CaptureContext Software With Included Sample Files

DLN:CaptureContext Version 1 Beta Apple/Mac logo Macs with MacOS 10.8 or later required.
DLN:CaptureContext Version 1 Beta Windows logo Win32
DLN:CaptureContext Version 1 Beta User Guide Acrobat PDF logo This Beta guide describes how to get started with DLN:CaptureContext.
License GNU license icon DLN software is available under the Gnu General Public License version 3. If you want to receive a copy of the source code, please send email to info@c-h-i.org.

CHI Forums CHI offers free online forums where you can share questions, insights, and issues related to the Digital Lab Notebook (DLN) tools. See the forum for DLN:CaptureContext.

2. Watch These Instructional Videos

To get started, first be sure to watch Digital Lab Notebook (DLN): What’s It All About?, the introductory video in our DLN series on the Vimeo site. This “big picture” video explains the purpose of the DLN tools, the need for collecting detailed metadata in scientific imaging, and why it matters.

Part 1: This 6-minute video walks you through the basics of the DLN:CaptureContext tool.

Part 2: This 14-minute video explains how to add data about equipment, setup, locations, subjects, and other related information in the DLN:CaptureContext tool.

Part 3: This 13-minute video explains how to bring all your data together into a comprehensive set of metadata for your imaging project.

See also our entire DLN instructional video series, Simplifying Scientific Imaging, on the Vimeo site.


With the Beta release of the first two software tools in the Digital Lab Notebook (DLN) suite, CHI gratefully acknowledges the contributed expertise and funding that have made this work possible to date.

Software Development

DLN:CaptureContext: This tool was developed by Carla Schroer and Mark Mudge of CHI, along with Martin Doerr and Erich Leisch from the Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas (FORTH). Martin Doerr led the development of the semantic knowledge management structure. Erich Leisch wrote the DLN:CaptureContext software. All members of the team contributed to the design of the software requirements and specifications documents.

DLN:Inspector: Mark Mudge and Carla Schroer of CHI and senior software engineer Ron Bourret designed the Inspector tool in coordination with Martin Doerr and Erich Leisch of FORTH. Ron Bourret wrote the DLN:Inspector software.


Finalizing the 1.0 Beta release for the DLN tools is funded by a current and ongoing National Endowment for the Humanities Preservation and Access Research and Development grant: The Democratization of Scientific Imaging through Metadata Management and Archival Submission Support. The Centre for Cultural Informatics of ICS FORTH is CHI’s partner in this grant. The grant period is from January 2018 – June 2020. (Award # PR-258746-18)

A grant from the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT), Applying Scientific Rigor to Photogrammetric 3D Documentation for Cultural Heritage and Natural Science Materials. This grant paid for the addition of photogrammetry support to the tools. This project was completed in December 2017.

A Digital Humanities start-up grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Data Sustainability and Advanced Metadata Management for Scientific Imaging. This funding paid for development of the DLN:Inspector tool, refinements to the DLN:CaptureContext tool, and an initial case study. This project was completed in December 2015. (Award # HD-51978-14)

Funds from earlier grants were used for initial investigations into approaches for process metadata in computational photography. This work included reviews of metadata strategies and use of the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model, as well as early prototypes of the DLN:CaptureContext tool:

A Cyber-enabled Discover and Innovation grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Automated Documentation and Illustration of Material Culture through the Collaborative Algorithmic Rendering Engine (CARE), in partnership with Princeton University. This project was completed in September 2014. (Award # IIS-1027962)

A National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Developing Advanced Technologies for the Imaging of Cultural Heritage Objects, in partnership with University of Southern California. This project was completed in December 2009. (Award # LG-25-06-0107-06)

Additional funding came from public contributions to Cultural Heritage Imaging.


Over the history of Digital Lab Notebook development, many CHI collaborators, too many to name here, have contributed valuable advice and insights to the project. CHI is particularly grateful to these key collaborators:

Steve Stead, Tom Malzbender, Judy Bogart, Dominic Oldman, Adam Rabinowitz, Neffra Matthews, Tom Noble, Julian Richards, Kieron Niven, Chris Edwards, Dale Kronkright, Mary Elings, Stuart Snydman, Susan Kane, Mohammed Elfarargy, Andrew G. Vaughn, Diane Manning