UoL Library Blog

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Research data management

Posted by knockels on 29 November, 2011

Yesterday I attended a meeting of the University Science and Technology Librarians’ Group in Cambridge, on the subject of Data Management.   

Research data management is an essential skill for researchers.   What data do they delete?   What do they back up and how?   Who will be able to access the data when they have left the University?   What counts as “data”?    How can they store and structure the data?   A horror story was told in which someone left computer equipment containing five years of PhD data in the pub, with no backup…

Two papers looked at projects in the area of data management training.   Incremental produced training material available at  DaMSSI used the Sconul 7 Pillars and Vitae Researcher Development Framework to develop a skills framework for training.  There is more information at and   DaMSSI also produced career profiles, to show the relevance of data management skills to a range of scientific careers.

Yvonne Nobis of Cambridge University described interesting research undertaken at Cambridge.     There are projects at Cambridge where people from different areas work together – the Pathgrid project, for example, uses image analysis software developed by astronomers to analyse pathology slides.   This came about because of a conversation over lunch.   Are there any formal mechanisms for helping this happen?  The research aimed to discover whether potentially useful software developed for one purpose was shared with or discovered by people in other disciplines.     It looked at physics and at bioinformatics.   Interviews conducted for the research indicated that some researchers were involved in writing code from scratch because they did not know that someone had already written what they needed.    At the same time, it uncovered reasons why researchers did not share code they had written – these included not wanting requests for support, errors being uncovered, and problems getting recognition for your work if it was useful outside of your field.   The argument was well made that as research data these days is often derived from other data, using software, that software is a research output that should be made available alongside the data itself. 

What is the role of the library in data management and in curating software?   It was suggested that libraries are seen as the people who deal with information, and so it falls within our remit.  It was further suggested that we might help by running training and producing training materials, by facilitating a workflow to make software discoverable, and by devising ontologies (the JISC-SWOP project has done this, in fact).

I can see the argument here, although I can also see that the subject falls within others’ remit as well.  I wonder what is already on offer at Leicester from IT Services, Research Support Office, from College doctoral training programmes and the Skills for the Professional Researcher training, and from departments.    That would be interesting to know, and perhaps help us to decide if we do have a role, in coordinating existing provision or offering new training.  

On another matter I have offered to write a short piece for the Health Libraries Group Newsletter to publicise USTLG to health and medical librarians who find themselves looking after science.   One colleague present yesterday was a medical librarian who had added science to her portfolio.

4 Responses to “Research data management”

  1. Very interesting read Keith – suggest if you’d like to know more about what the Uni is doing in terms of data archiving and curation that the delightful Jonathan Tedds in ITS (late of Physics) is the man to see. Certainly with my LRA hat on I’ve been keeping in touch with him, as while there’s not currently a direct relationship twix data archiving and publication archiving in the LRA it’s long been suggested in the repository community that there should be. Something I suspect the JISC Repositories and Curation Infrastructure strand and associated projects will be taking into account in 2012.

    Bottom line though, research publications in many cases are the summaries of research and the raw data output the research itself – and these should be at the very least linked. I’d certainly agree that information workers would have a role, although I wouldn’t be able to say hand on heart that the role 100% falls in the Library in every institution (probably at Leicester it would, given our time honoured expertise in this area). But as you say interesting times, and let’s keep watching the skies…

  2. Katie Fraser said

    I was going to point to Jonathan Tedds too. There’s quite a nice video of him on YouTube talking about what UoL is doing in this area.

  3. knockels said

    Thanks, both. I have been having a look in various places for UoL activity, but will get in touch with Jonathan.

  4. Ben Wynne said

    There is a university research computing committee now – which I have attended once – which has touched on the area and, in particular, the Research Councils UK new data management principles which make the major information management/services component to all of this clear whether it is badged ‘library’ or not. Jonathan Tedds has led a number of JISC funded projects with a major research data management component – the most recent one – called ‘BRISSKIT’ ! – addresses storage of client etc. data in biomedicine. A major challenge for university libraries in this area is a) how do we start to understand the issues in what is a complex area while sustaining day to day operations i.e. the usual challenge of finding/making space for innovation; b) do we have the skills? Answer at the moment is, I think, no – not yet.; c) how do we develop/find them?

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