Michael Nielsen wrote “The New Einsteins Will Be Scientists Who Share” on the Wall Street Journal Online last Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011. It’s a great story about Tim Gowers, a Cambridge University mathematician, who used his blog and the help of his blog readers to solve a particularly difficult math problem. After posting the problem, the discussion started on Gowers’ blog. After six weeks, the problem had been solved. Mathematics is not the only subject to share data to help solve problems. Michael Nielsen brings up the example of the human genome project. Despite these well known examples, Michael notes that sharing data in the scientific community is still difficult. There’s a lack of online tools and incentives. In fact, Michael mentions that grant agencies could help develop these incentives and create online tools.
In a sense, this is already starting to happen. There’s the 2 page requirement for all NSF grants where the applicant has to outline how their data will be made available to the public. In response to this, there’s the Data Management Online Tool or the DMPTool, created in partnership of the University of California Curation Center (UC3), DataONE, Digital Curation Center (UK), Smithsonian Institution, UC Los Angeles Library, UC San Diego Libraries, University of Illinois UC, and the University of Virgina Library. This tools helps institutions and researchers create ready to use data management plans in order to meet the requirements of funding agencies. Further, there is the Dataverse Network. The Dataverse Network is a dedicated data archive where contributors can research data, link to publications through formal data citation, and manage data sets. For the moment, Dataverse Network is geared towards the social sciences but work is being done at Harvard to create a network for astronomy. There is also ORCID, a partnership of over 240 organizations from publishers to academic libraries. The goal of ORCID is to address the issue of name ambiguity and attribution by creating a author/contributor registry of unique identifiers for individual researchers. ORCID aims to enhance scientific discovery and improve the efficiency of research funding. In addition to these large scale projects, institutions are creating institution repositories or digital repositories where research can be stored and searched in an open environment.
Again, as Michael Nielsen points out, there’s a lot more to do. But this is one area where libraries and institutions that deal in information do a good job. I see this as an opportunity to re-energize catalog and metadata units. With these various initiatives, metadata is taking on a lead role in terms of reinventing the type of role that catalogers and metadata librarians play within libraries. But as Michael Nielsen points out, any reinvention will also have to include changing our views of cataloging and our work, promoting the value of our work, and promoting technical services as a public service not a back room operation. I realize that many are or near this point. However, there are a great many that aren’t. Unfortunately the view of the cataloger (in particular) is still that of someone who can’t see beyond ISBD punctuation, MARC formats, and their own cube walls since they refuse to talk to anyone. We need to turn away from this negative view of our profession to better promote the value of our work.