Not surprisingly, research data played a prominent role. Many libraries are turning to research data as a new opportunity to serve the university community in a digital age where the local physical availability of books and journals, which was the very reason for building libraries in the first place, has lost much of its importance. But is that same local focus perhaps a hindrance when it comes to research data?
Very early in the workshop, Liz Lyon of UKOLN (a UK-based research organisation for digital libraries) and the DCC (Digital Curation Centre, also from the UK) addressed the role libraries play with regard to research data. Her focus was on partnerships in the information chain, between creators and custodians of research data. By all means, read all of here slides (published here) for a complete picture.
Liz pointed to the many discipline-based research infrastructures that are emerging all over the place (as did Norbert Lossau, by the way, in a recent article in LIBER Quarterly). Research libraries do not seem to play much of a role in these. Why is that? Because of their local rather than disciplinary orientation? Liz Lyon cited her own article on roles and responsibilities with regard to research data in the current issue of the International Journal of Digital Curation. A survey showed that researchers expect “leadership” from research librarians, because, as Liz said, “Researchers do not know what is good practice with regard to their data”. Another study (Re-skilling for research, by RLUK/Mary Auckland), however, showed a disturbing lack of appropriate skills among research libraries, and, what is worse,the gap between the skills needed and the skills available in research libraries is growing at an alarming rate. The slide below shows not only the statistics but also the types of skill required:
The audience in Florence reacted audibly when this slide was shown. The implicit question was: Can we ever bridge that gap? The RLUK study itself provides an explanation for the skills gap that is not very encouraging: “Very few librarians are likely to have specialist scientific or medical knowledge – if you train as a research scientist or a medic, you probably won’t become a librarian.” Now who can argue with that?
So, I could not help but wonder and ask out loud: “Are we perhaps trying to transform an institution that is fundamentally local and general (the traditional library) quite forcibly into something it is not, a specialized global service?” Liz’s response: “I see a blended landscape emerging. We are still unpacking as to what data to keep where. Some disciplines have developed very good data curation facilities. To researchers in those fields I would say: ‘By all means, take your data to the disciplinary archive.’ But for many data such services are not available. Also, data need to be managed during the research process, and there I see a role for research libraries. But dramatic changes are needed if research libraries are to play that role effectively, dramatic changes with regards to skills in research libraries.” “Dramatic?”, I asked. “Yes, dramatic changes,” Liz confirmed. “Research libraries must make sure to link with the global context to create an integrated research landscape.”
On a more positive note, Liz Lyon referred to many tools that the UK Digital Curation Centre is developing to help research libraries (see the slides). The UK is very active in this field, that is certainly true, not in the least because UK research funders are growing more demanding with regard to data management and data sharing. All of Europe can benefit from what the UK DCC (and other UK institutions, such as RIN) are turning out in terms of research and tools for managing research data. But the question how to organize all of those new skills and how to fund them in times of budget cuts remains unanswered. Perhaps LIBER can take a role here, Liz Lyon suggested.
Our host Maurizio Lunghi suggested that we should build a basic global service with a specific mandate which would be available to all. When he suggested this, I thought of Liz Lyon saying: “I want to emphasize most of all that research data comes in all types and sizes, there are many, many differences.” Can these all be served by a global service, I wonder?
PS: on definitions. “Digital curation involves maintaining, preserving and adding value to digital [assets] throughout their lifecycle” (DCC website). Digital curation, therefore, is more than digital preservation. Liz Lyon: “Curation is more geared towards immediate use; preservation more towards future use.”
(Series of posts to be continued …)
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