Research Data Services

I was able to attend a regional round table of librarians working in research data. Some librarians were the research data librarian at their institution. Surprisingly or not, the majority of librarians had a variety of job functions of which research data was a component. Many came from institutions that didn’t have a dedicated team solely for research data. In this case, these librarians offered services for digital scholarship broadly speaking that included research data activities. Several common themes came up during the round table. I would like to highlight two in this post.

The first topic concerned liaison programs at various institutions. Many participants because they are offering a wide variety of services rely on liaisons for outreach and marketing of these services. Several gave examples of liaisons who jumped on board and took on the task of helping marketing services and getting in touch with their constituents about research data. In fact, many librarians in the room were liaisons or continue to be subject liaisons with new duties. However, there was some concern about the role of outreach as well as how to handle fear of changing job duties for those liaisons unfamiliar with research data and services. Outreach is a difficult task. You have to go where your users are. And it is not always the case that librarians are welcomed wholeheartedly into research groups or departments. Further, there are several groups of users: faculty, graduate students, PIs, research centers that might have external researchers. Within these user groups, there’s a whole variety of thoughts and views on libraries and librarians’ role in research data management. Beyond this, research data is still a relatively new task for subject liaisons as a whole. As with any topic, research data consists in a number of complex topics that involve different groups in and outside an institution. Take for example storage. Where I work, this is not one streamlined service for researchers. Central IT provides what is called a P drive with a minimum amount of storage for staff, students and faculty. This is of course backed up and comes with the minimum amount of security but nothing spectacular. It is meant just as a temporary storage place. There is email and Google apps. But as this is linked to Google, even though it is provided by the institution, it would not be a good idea to store data linked to research projects in particular those that have sensitive information. The health center has been set up with a high computing system that includes measures to handle sensitive information. Engineering departments always have access to a high performance computing system. However, what about researchers in other departments? Further, these storage options provided by central IT don’t have an archiving component or provide a citable link. This is just an example of what researchers typically face. Learning the ins and outs of what your library and institution offers can be daunting and often a frustrating experience as their might not be solutions are nonexistent or inconsistent. With the move to have subject liaisons learn about research data management has come a fear of having to learn something new and taking on new responsibilities. It is a fear of change. The majority of people at the round table encountered this fear at their institutions. This is nothing new. Fear of change is unfortunately a theme in any workplace. So how do you mitigate this fear? There is a lot of literature that speaks to this. But many in attendance mentioned that they hold workshops and consultations for their fellow colleagues to help them get a handle on topics and services offered in research data management. Is this the way to go? Should all liaisons and subject specialists know about research data management?

The second topic concerned education. Offering workshops is the easiest entry point in providing services for research data management. Almost everyone in the room provides workshops. Some have general research data management workshops. Others go into lab groups and offered short presentations on one topic to graduate students and the PI. Others have online tutorials. Pretty much everyone offers consultations services. Is education and are consultations effective? For example, offering workshops on the data management plan help researchers write a DMP. However, one you know how to write a DMP,, then you pretty much can write one in the future, meaning that the research won’t go back to a workshop or ask for a consultation on this topic. This is actually a good thing because that workshop was effective. Will there be a need for such workshops in the future? I don’t know. However, this gets to the crux of one of the issues discussed at the round table. Digital scholarship and research data management are in flux. It is necessary to be flexible and be willing to change based on your users and what is happening at your institution. In this sense, continuing education is necessary especially for those offering services.

This was a fantastic opportunity to get together with colleagues across the area. Discussions were frank, open, and helpful. What was interesting is that independent of the size and funding of the institution, the majority of us were in the same boat, namely learning and adapting to the evolving needs of researchers on campus.

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It’s all about time

Do you know Sally Gore and her blog, “A Librarian by any other name”? Her blog is one of my favorites. Sometimes, it takes me a couple of weeks just to think about the different ideas that she addresses in her blog, which tend to be dense. Recently, she posted, “Taking Inventory“. This is an extremely positive post about transformations and transforming oneself as a librarian. Too often, change is seen as an obstacle. It causes fear, disruption, and sometimes a lot of grief. One of Sally’s points is that during her times of transition, she experienced a period of inspiration and skill learning and building. Not only that, the skills she learned in her many positions as a librarian over the years has value to her community. This brings me to another important point. These variations transformations lead up to the person she is today and the skills that she can offer her community. These changes took time. To quote Sally,

Nobody makes “The Flying Wallendas” varsity team without years and years of practice (and good genes).

This is very true. During a period where people often seek instant gratification, this might seem counter-cultural. It is not only doing our job but also re-inventing ourselves. One of my supervisor’s favorite motto is to fail fast and often. Thinking of this motto in the context of Sally’s message, this could be interpreted as “change and grow often”. I would definitely recommend reading this post. It is positive, upbeat and a much needed happy outlook on change and transformation.

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The Problem with Records

In the past several weeks, I’ve been fortunate to have attended several one day conferences. In this post, I want to highlight a presentation by Diane Hillman called “Moving to the Open World: It’s not as scary as it sounds”. This presentation was on how linked open data can work for library data in terms of making our data accessible and discoverable by others. This was a fantastic presentation and one of Diane’s best. Out of all the information in the presentation, I want to highlight an important theme that not only Diane spoke about but that has come up before in reading about library data. This is that using xml to describe items is not very different from MARC records. To put it differently, with xml, we create records or documents that are hard to share, expose and provide relationships for the pieces in the xml record. On slide three of Diane’s presentation, she explains that xml assumes a closed world and the xml record is the equivalent to a metadata record or MARC record. What does she mean? For library data and when xml is implemented, the large majority are implemented according to what is called a schema and written in XSD or extensible schema definition. A XSD outlines the requirements that an XML needs to follow to conform to that XSD. Let’s take the analogy of languages and dictionaries. To write effectively and clearly in German, it’s good to know how to spell words and basic grammar. This is syntax and semantics, which is outlined in an xsd. To return to the world of libraries, to implement the metadata standard of MODS or Metadata Object Description Schema is to create an xml file that follows the requirements outlined in the MODS xsd. And we are familiar with this type of analogy. To create a record in my ILS, I have to follow the MARC and RDA standards. Just like a MARC record, one in XML has text in it. For example, a Dublin Core record has the elements in the angle brackets and textual information between the opening and closing angle brackets. We can move these XML records around through harvests or data migration. We can transform them into different XML files according to different metadata standards. We can display the information in the XML. This is no different from what we do with MARC records. And this is the closed system. We need to break out of this closed system. Of course, RDA attempts to do that with its focus on relationships. Another way is to use linked data. To varying degrees of success this can be implemented in XML. There is the MODS RDF ontology. Though there are a few linked open data projects mostly by large research universities like Stanford and Cornell, I am not aware of any institution using MODS RDF ontology. However, MODS RDF along with BIBFRAME express the need to make data open and shareable on the web. I would definitely recommend Diane’s presentation.

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The Infofuture White Paper

I’m trying to catch up on my reading and other things this weekend. Finally, I got around to looking up the white paper that I read about in the latest issue of American Libraries. That white paper is in reference to the article starting on page 40, “The Future of the MLS: Rethinking Librarian Education” by John Carolo Bertot and Lindsay Sarin. The author’s summary of our current situation is well known to many of us: significant reductions in work force, variety of information sources open to people, changing nature of information and how people find and access it, changing communities, etc. These are arguments that we’ve heard before. Our users, how those users access information, and what information is is changing and will continue to change in the future. What I found interesting about the article was the question: how can future librarians be trained for this ever changing landscape or rather landscapes? The authors had 8 main points: inform, enable, equalize, lead, adaptable, create, lead, be tech-savy. In the white paper referenced by the authors, these points are echoed with concepts such as innovation, creativity, transformation, life-long learning, or incentives. Honestly, my library school days didn’t prepare me for much of my current job much or my other jobs I’ve had since graduating. This is partly due to the fact that the information landscape is changing and evolving all the time. It is extremely difficult to prepare others for unknown changes. On the flip side, it could be helpful to prepare others how to deal with change. When faced with disappearing staff and low budgets, being creative and adapting to new realities become necessary. This is not necessarily negative. It is necessary to think out of the box. Yes, there are many information sources available for users. However, that doesn’t mean that users get the information they need or want. Many of those information sources are confusing and hard to navigate. Today, librarians are in an amazing situation to be mediators of information. Further, we can learn from those other information sources, determine what we do best and what they do best, and grow and improve our services. Though the article was geared towards those teaching future librarians, the main points and white paper provide insight for working librarians. It is not so much the future where we have to be adaptable, creative, innovative, flexible and learn. It is right now. I would definitely recommend reading this article and looking at the white paper/poster. Though I learn more on the job than I did in library school, perhaps this is the point. This article spoke more to me now that if I would have read it during library school. In fact, this article spoke to me about what we can be doing as librarians now and in the future not just librarians in training.

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