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.