Week 11 – Research Data Services in Libraries

By October 12, 2017IFN614, Research Data Services

There has been a trend in recent years for university’s to engage with the research community more proactively with research data services (RDS). RDS encompasses a number of services as set out by the University of Maryland including:

  • Open data – Create and publish open data
  • Data-management plans – Design and carry out plans for funding agencies, organizations, and journals.
  • Data archiving – Archive and preserve data.
  • Managing data – Construct well-organized, well-documented data collections.

The Council of Australian University Librarians lists QUT at having an excellent program in supporting RDS. From training which I discussed in an earlier blog post to tools to manage, store and publish research data. “QUT recognises research data as a valuable product of research activity which can assist in promoting open enquiry and debate, complementing research outputs and publications, providing research transparency, and justifying research outcomes.”

As shown in the below infographic a study of European Academic Libaries found that RDS services are important to maintain and store information. It also found the two thirds of library directors thought RDS was required for academic libraries to stay relevant.


Image credit: http://libereurope.eu/blog/2016/10/13/research-data-services-europes-academic-research-libraries/

As a consequence the role of an academic librarian has been shifting to providing support in the different aspects of RDS. This new role of a data librarian requires knowledge in data management planning and digital data curation. Brown (2015) observed that this new role also requires the librarian to:

  • Raise awareness of data issues within institutions and the benefits of actively managing research data
  • Assist in developing policies about data management and preservation
  • Provide advice to researchers about data management early in the research life cycle; influencing the way researchers will be creating their data, the formats they will use and building a commitment to use a repository to publish/preserve their data
  • Work with IT service colleagues to develop appropriate local data storage capacity
  • Train and introduce data management and curation concepts to research students

Image credit: https://ischool.syr.edu/infospace/2012/07/16/data-science-whats-in-it-for-the-new-librarian/

The trend to data librarians means academic librarians have to acquire new skills to have the necessary knowledge in these expanded roles.
Stanton points out that “Librarians have always been great at information management and organization. This is a core skill in data science; it manifests most strongly in the data curation component of the big data problem. Many librarians are also outstanding communicators and have been trained in the art and science of transforming user information needs into strategies and resources for investigation and learning.” For this reason academic librarians are probably the most suited into transitioning into the field of data science that supports RDS.

Xing et al, (2013) found that several libraries have begun to seek librarians and staff with data curation skills. “For example, the University of Chicago Library sought qualified applicants for the position of scientific data curator, and applicants with experience in library-provided data management services were preferred.” There is always going to be a need for academic librarians but the trend towards data science is becoming an important skill for future librarians to have. As with the pivot to incorporating makerspaces to library programs, academic libraries need to also ensure they pivot to providing RDS and train staff accordingly. Harvard Library has already taken the lead by implementing a free open course for training in data science. Should other universities like QUT implement similar courses?

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Tash says:

    Hi Tom,
    You have excellent way of showing the importance of research service through just talking about data. Data is indeed heart and soul of research and if libraries choose to provide this service RDS, it suffice. Then all points you mentioned regarding raising awareness among researchers and provide appropriate training becomes equally important. And I saw QUT is already moving in this field. I also saw creative library at KG working on VR to help creative Industry student get real help during research (like nursing). These are more initiatives on way from QUT library. Your clean piece of article is hugely informative. Thanks Tashi

  • Mazen says:

    I like the fact that everything you said were supported by data. I want to comment on the ‘trend to data librarians’. Like the rest of us I believe that they also need to work on acquiring new skills such as scientific curators or even subject specific ones. This upgrade will not only make them more reliable but also more flexible in assisting library users and researchers.

    • Tom says:

      Thanks Mazen. Constant education for library staff is definitely necessary to allow libraries to have the capability to continue supporting researchers.

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