It takes a data management village

A couple of weeks ago, information scientists, librarians, social scientists, and their compatriots gathered in Toronto for the 2014 IASSIST meeting. IASSIST is, of course, an acronym which I always have to look up to remember – International Association for Social Science Information Service & Technology. Despite its forgettable name, this conference is one of the better meetings I’ve attended. The conference leadership manages to put together a great couple of days, chock full of wonderful plenaries and interesting presentations, and even arranged a hockey game for the opening reception.

Yonge Street crowds celebrating the end of the Boer War, Toronto, Canada. This image is available from the City of Toronto Archives, and is in the public domain.

Although there were many interesting talks, and I’m still processing the great discussions I had in Toronto, a couple really rang true for me. I’m going to now shamelessly paraphrase one of these talks (with permission, of course) about building a “village” of data management experts at institutions to best service researchers’ needs. All credit goes to Alicia Hofelich Mohr and Thomas Lindsay, both from University of Minnesota. Their presentation was called “It takes a village: Strengthening data management through collaboration with diverse institutional offices.” I’m sure IASSIST will make the slides available online in the near future, but I think this information is too important to not share asap.

Mohr and Lindsay first described the data life cycle, and emphasized the importance of supporting data throughout its life – especially early on, when small things can make a big difference down the road. They asserted that in order to provide support for data management, librarians need to connect with other service providers at their institutions. They then described who these providers are, and where they fit into the broader picture. Below I’ve summarized Mohr and Lindsay’s presentation.

Grants coordinators

Faculty writing grants are constantly interacting with these individuals. They are on the “front lines” of data management planning, in particular, since they can point researchers to other service providers who can help over the course of the project. Bonus – grants offices often have a deep knowledge of agency requirements for data management.

Sponsored projects

The sponsored projects office is another service provider that often has early interactions with researchers during their project planning. Researchers are often required to submit grants directly to this office, who ensure compliance and focus on requirements needed for proposals to be complete.

College research deans

Although this might be an intimidating group to connect with, they are likely to be the most aware of the current research climate and can help you target your services to the needs of their researchers. They can also help advocate for your services, especially via things like new faculty orientation. Generally, this group is an important ally in facilitating data sharing and reuse.

IT system administrators

This group is often underused by researchers, despite their ability to potentially provide researchers with server space, storage, collaboration solutions, and software licenses. They are also useful allies in ensuring security for sensitive data.

Research support services & statistical consulting offices

Some universities have support for researchers in the designing, collecting, and analyzing of their data. These groups are sometimes housed within specific departments, and therefore might have discipline-specific knowledge about repositories, metadata standards, and cultural norms for that discipline. They are often formally trained as researchers and can therefore better relate to your target audience. In addition, these groups have the opportunity to promote replicable workflows and help researchers integrate best practices for data management into their everyday processes.

Data security offices, copyright/legal offices, & commercialization offices

Groups such as these are often overlooked by librarians looking to build a community of support around data management. Individuals in these offices may be able to provide invaluable expertise to your network, however. These groups contribute to and implement University security, data, and governance policies, and are knowledgeable about the legal implications of data sharing, especially related to sensitive data. Intellectual property rights, commercialization, and copyright are all complex topics that require expertise not often found among other data stewardship stakeholders. Partnering with experts can help reduce the potential for future problems, plus ensure data are shared to the fullest extent possible.

Library & institutional repository

The library is, of course, distinct from an institutional repository. However, often the institution’s library plays a key role in supporting, promoting, and often implementing the repository. I often remind researchers that librarians are experts in information, and data is one of many types of information. Researchers often underuse librarians and their specialized skills in metadata, curation, and preservation. The researchers’ need for a data repository and the strong link between repositories and librarians will change this in the coming years, however. Mohr and Lindsay ended with this simple statement, which nicely sums up their stellar presentation:

The data support village exists across levels and boundaries of the institution as well as across the lifecycle of data management.

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