A&SL introduced a new bursary to facilitate information professionals attendance at international conferences in 2015. Bursary recipients will compile reports on their conference experience. Our first bursary recipient Kate Mc Carthy reports on the International Data Curation Conference
Kate McCarthy (Digital Repository of Ireland) attended the International Data Curation Conference, London, 9-10th February 2015
This year I applied for the new International Library Conference Bursary from the Academic & Special Libraries Section of the LAI, and was fortunate enough to secure funding to attend the International Digital Curation Conference (IDCC) in London. While an account of the event’s many presentations, speeches and panel discussions will be published in An Leabharlann later this year, I wanted to take the opportunity to present a more personal response to the conference.
I should begin, I suppose, by explaining why I was particularly interested in this year’s IDCC. In March 2013 my employer - the Digital Repository of Ireland - co-organised the third Research Data Alliance Plenary in Dublin. I went along, as did several of my librarian peers, having a natural interest in moves by many international STEM research centres to increase the preservation of and access to large digital datasets. I was surprised, however, by the negative attitude of several high profile attendees towards library and archive professionals. Given the anxiety that is growing about the long-term preservation and discoverability of scientific datasets, I wondered why there is such poor communication between researchers and the people that could and want to help them the most.
The IDCC is organised annually by the Digital Curation Centre (DCC). The DCC was launched in 2004 in the UK to support higher education institutions in dealing with the challenges of data curation and preservation. The DCC conducts research into and advocates for best practices in digital curation and has developed numerous tools, models and guidelines for researchers, data scientists and librarians, as well as hosting regular training workshops and webinars. When I saw that this year’s programme incorporated discussions of research data management in both the STEM and Digital Humanities disciplines I wanted to discover if the kind of attitudes observed at the RDA Plenary towards academic libraries would be demonstrated at the London event. And more importantly, I wanted to see if libraries are successfully ensuring that they are part of these discussions around long-term sharing and archiving of research data.
On the first morning there was a panel discussion featuring international perspectives on open research and curation, which unfortunately ended with a certain degree of ‘library-bashing’. Geoffrey Boulton (Senior Honorary Fellow at the University of Edinburgh and President of the International Council of Science’s Committee on Data for Science and Technology) and Tony Hey (Senior Data Science Fellow, eScience Institute, University) commented that their students do not use the library, except to avail of coffee and armchair facilities. In fact, Hey asked, what do academic librarians even do with their spare time now that they don’t shelve books, as most, if not all, information is online?
Assuming that all information is online is enough of a problem (as it is of course such a fallacy) but the assumption that students can now ‘Google’ everything that they need demonstrates a worrying lack of awareness of just how poor students’ digital literacy skills can be, and is, I believe, indicative of the larger problem in the sciences around researchers’ documentation and preservation of their data. As was pointed out again and again during the conference, most scientists are poor data managers and are not interested in the preservation and reusability of their own research data.
Could early intervention in a researcher’s career be one solution to this problem? The design and implementation of high quality digital literacy and information management programmes is an area in which librarians already excel. There were certainly very interesting programmes on data curation being run in some American universities, including the Data Curation Profiles Toolkit developed by Purdue University to help librarians conduct requirement interviews with researchers.
Purdue also reported on a fascinating semester-long data literacy programme. A big challenge identified by the team at Purdue was making the programme relevant to the specific needs of graduate researchers from different disciplines and an enormous effort was made to provide specific context to students in order to demonstrate the circumstances when the knowledge gained would be useful. They took a flexible approach to the lesson planning, developing the classes from week to week as they learned more about their students. Reflective learning was encouraged. Guest speakers were brought in from the library, repositories and IT.
What I found particularly impressive was the effort made to follow up on the programme, which went further than simply having students fill out a feedback form at the end of the course - the moderators went back to the students six months later to see if the programme had had a lasting impact on their data management practices. File naming had been very successful, and was still being used by many of the students. They also indicated a better use of metadata, having understood through the programme that poor documentation of their data would hinder discoverability, re-use or replicability of tests.
There is, of course, also the issue of funding to consider for long-term data management and preservation. As was pointed out in the discussions about both Digital Humanities and STEM research, it is extremely difficult to build an infrastructure for long-term preservation through the kinds of short funding cycles that support academic research projects. This does not create an environment in which it would be easy to change the data curation behaviour of researchers.
As well as this, there is no denying that academic libraries offer a wide range of essential services that go well beyond assisting researchers with data management. The perceived lack of digital skills amongst librarians is damaging, but doesn’t stand up to real scrutiny. Librarians have been adapting to new technologies for a very long time, and as a profession we are far too addicted to the acquiring and sharing of information to avoid learning any and all of the skills required to assist with data curation. And let’s face it, we love the ‘boring stuff’, all that cataloguing and transcribing and file naming that researchers struggle so much with. The DCC, to its credit, has made a good space for libraries in their work over the last ten years, and I can only hope that the RDA will do the same. What we must make sure is that librarians and archivists continue to take their place at the discussion table. We must continue to attend events like the IDCC. We must advocate for our potentially invaluable role in digital data management. We must say to researchers, “We’re here! We can help! Let us make this journey together!”
Padraic Stack (Maynooth University) attended Open Repositories 2015 in Indianapolis in June 2015 read his report below.