Tag Archives: data
No, this is a reflection of the level of enthusiasm we were asked to have as part of our data management subject at Uni this semester. Our first assignment was to write a press release explaining research data management to the general public in a way that wouldn’t send them straight to sleep. I chose to take a narrative approach and promised that if I got a good mark, I’d reproduce it here. If you work in data management, skip the next bit – but if you’re not in an academic or research library and you’re curious about what we are all talking about with data, you might like this.
Sydney is playing host this weekend to social science researchers from around the world as the inaugural Social Science Research Futures conference gets underway.
“Managing research data output will be a focus of the papers presented”, conference organiser Clare McKenzie said today. “Imagine the impact on your life if you lost your laptop with all the contacts, photos and other personal information in it. Now imagine you are a researcher on a project that has interviewed 500 homeless about their situation and that the laptop was storing all the responses to the questions.”
While such loss of data can be catastrophic to a project, managing research data is not just all about avoiding disaster. As many research projects are funded with public money, there has been a push in recent years to make the results of that research publicly available at the end of the project.
What exactly are research data? Broadly, they are the factual information collected and recorded during a research project in order to prove or disprove the original research question (Carlson 2011). The Australian public’s responses to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) census are data, as are the daily air temperature recordings a high school science student collects as part of a school project. The data are rarely meaningful without analysis, so the ABS puts the data together in combinations to look for trends and the high school student may graph the daily temperature to compare against the average for the time of year in order to draw conclusions. All of this is research data.
Making arrangements for back up and proper storage of research data is just one aspect of data management and is part of what’s known as data management planning. Jane Smith, a senior social sciences researcher at City University has developed a data management plan at the beginning of her last two research projects and likens it to the idea of business planning. “You don’t normally plan for your business to fail, but you can fail to plan for your business” she says. “Research projects are the same. If you don’t plan for the fact that someone may wish to access your data in twenty years when the technology is different and the original research team long dispersed, then all your hard work during the project can’t be shared or expanded.”
Researchers need to think about planning for storage, rights of use by others, naming the data in such a way that others can find it, putting details of the data in a repository where it can be found, as well as the possibility that files created today may become an obsolete format in the future (ICPSR 2012). These details are known as metadata – literally “data about data” – and are a way of attaching useful information to an object such as a dataset.
When it comes to data management planning, it doesn’t matter whether the research is social sciences or the ‘hard sciences’. Both McKenzie and Smith advise that time spent creating a data management plan (DMP) at the start of a research project can save a lot of time further down the track, particularly if the project is large and collaborative with many individual researchers. Establishing file formats and file naming conventions such as the complex file naming system the ABS use (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2009) ensures consistency and accuracy of records no matter who is working on the project at the time. Smaller projects need not go to this level of complexity, but writing it all down in a DMP can help ensure these details are not forgotten or lost. In fact, some research funding bodies have made preparation and submission of a DMP a condition of applying for a grant (Van den Eynden et al 2011).
Sharing and re-use of data becomes easier if that data has been managed properly. Making data accessible to others or allowing re-use and re-purposing of that data later on for another project is part of making research more collaborative and reduces the chance that money will be wasted on ‘re-inventing the wheel’ (Van den Eynden et al 2011). It also may help establish trends, such as comparing the interviews with the homeless (from the lost laptop scenario above) to information collected again in five years time.
Smith comments that for one of her recent projects she was able to search Research Data Australia (RDA http://researchdata.ands.org.au/), an online catalogue of research datasets, to find details of a project from a number of years ago that had data relevant to her project. Through contact details in the RDA listing, Smith, in her words “got access to the most wonderful population data from five years ago that I was able to re-use in the context of my current research project”.
Like preparing a DMP, research funding bodies in Australia and overseas are beginning to make continuing access to research data a condition of the funding.
The future of publicly funded research in Australia is going to depend on good planning.
I enjoyed the subject, it was serendipitous timing with my secondment to Library Repository Services and like all my uni subjects, I’m now glad it’s over.
I seem to remember promising some sort of #newjob update. As I’ve now been there nearly 2 months (time flies!) it’s a good time to stop and think about what I’ve learned and what I’m doing.
I’m reading and reading and reading about research data management, funding body requirements, data management planning and data citation at the moment. It’s more interesting than I’ve just made that sound – but it is a fairly dry subject to write about! My first uni assignment this semester is to write a press release for the general public on the importance of research data management. Really? I’ve had to have the jargon-buster out on that one trust me.
I ended up falling back on the good old narrative, story, analogy, what have you. How do you begin to describe the need for data management to people outside either the narrow data librarian world or the (some would say equally narrow) research world? By likening it to losing your mobile phone or laptop with all your photos, contacts and documents you were working on. A hook? Perhaps. Time (and whoever does my marking) will tell. If I get a good mark, I’ll share the press release here 🙂
I do get to practice some of this in the real world soon. As part of my secondment to the library repository services team, I’m taking joint responsibility with a colleague for putting together some research data management information sessions for our academic services librarians (which is where I’m from). It’s an interesting juxtaposition – on the one hand I still feel like an academic services librarian, but I’m also starting to get my head around this data management stuff in a way that I hadn’t been able to before my secondment. The test will be if I can get a workshop written that convinces my former colleagues!
At the same time, I’m (slowly) getting a repository project underway. One of our faculties is about to acquire a collection of films and we are negotiating to store it in an open access repository. Enter a whole technical world full of phrases like harvesting, data streams, web-interface, deposit tool and wireframes. Yep.
Then there’s copyright. Particularly in relation to the upcoming film collection, I’ve spent weeks trying to get my head around copyright and licensing issues. Copyright in film is particularly complex – of course it is. I’m about to start adapting our legal-office-approved rights agreements that relate to theses and other written research outputs to suit film.
While most days I still feel like I’m going around in circles it is starting to make sense and writing it all down here has further crystallised some things for me. Proving that I need to blog more.
If you work in academic libraries sooner or later you are going to come across the issue of research data management. Increasingly, we are also working in an e-research space where everything from finding journal articles for a literature review through to making a copy of the finished work available in an institutional repository happens in an online space.
My previous posts on digital humanities send out a call for libraries to be more involved in this process and to come to the table as partners and collaborators with researchers. This is an area of librarianship I didn’t know existed before starting at MPOW 15 months ago and it has caught my interest in a big way.
I did say much of this #blogjune from me would be about data. Now I can reveal that I have a new job for the next 12 months and am going to be working in our library’s repository services team, talking about research data management all day long. It starts next week – stay tuned!
Some time ago, I promised a series of posts following my attendance at the Digital Humanities Australasia 2012 conference. It has turned out to be an occasional series – with this being the the next occasion.
I was challenged to rethink my experience of the conference only last week, when I attended a presentation skills course conducted by NIDA. I’ve been preparing a presentation to give to staff at MPOW as part of the requirements of attending the conference, but the NIDA course challenged me to distill the message I wanted to give down to a 2-3 minute presentation – without powerpoint or other visual aids. Presenting without visual aids doesn’t frighten me per se, but the conference was very project-example heavy and I will be showing some of those projects during my longer presentation as a way of describing what I learned.
Taking the show-and-tell based presentation I had half prepared and turning it into 2 minutes of me talking about the concepts forced me to distil those concepts for myself – let alone my audience. I ended up dividing my talk into three sections. What are digital humanities? What were some of the key themes from the conference? What can/should libraries be doing to get involved?
What are digital humanities? Essentially anything humanities scholars do in a digital environment. This means that both the process of digitising a manuscript, artwork or other object AND/OR the subsequent use of that digitised product for research can come under under the umbrella of digital humanities scholarship. All clear? Further explanation from the research page of the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College, London:
The digital humanities form a bridge between the traditional practices of research and the opportunities afforded by technology, providing scholars with new ways of looking at old problems, and the methods, tools and frameworks to support them in novel avenues of enquiry. … the digital humanities does not simply evangelise for the use of technology but provides a critical perspective on when it is appropriate (or not) to use a particular technology and how (King’s College London, 2012).
The more I read on the subject of digital humanities, the more this contextual definition makes sense. Four academics from King’s College presented a keynote panel at the conference on the challenges in collaborative research in the digital humanities and offered some sample projects from their current portfolio that can be viewed here.
What were the main themes from the conference? The overall conference theme was Building, Mapping, Connecting. From the sessions I attended and looking back over the twitter stream, blog posts that have been published subsequently and reflecting on lunchtime conversations I think the following emerged as recurrent, important themes:
There were more of course, but as an LIS professional these resonated with me the most – and I am sure with most people reading this post. In most libraries, (in this context academic libraries), this is what we do, what we know how to do and this leads nicely to the third question which is….
How do/can/should academic libraries get involved? The answer to this is not straightforward and is going to vary from institution to institution, depending on the research focus of the library and the university. Some university libraries do not involve them in the research process very much, if at all, while others are focussing attention on research needs, including engagement with our role as digital libraries. Getting started may be as simple as starting to have conversations with the academics and researchers about what their needs are. Finding out how they see the library fitting into their research cycle is important, as is doing some brainstorming ourselves and coming up with some services to offer that they may not have considered as part of the library’s role. This from the blog Library Sphere:
In a world where the academic library’s value will increasingly be determined by the quality of its services rather than the number of physical objects it stores, we must have a deep understanding of how knowledge production is changing in the fields we serve and partner with scholars to build new services that they actually need.
At MPOW, the focus is on encouraging library staff to engage with the research communities in the university and there is already some collaboration going on between us. A recent job advertisement by Yale University Library has this to say about their library’s commitment to the field of digital humanities:
We are looking for a creative, technically-grounded, and visionary person who will serve as an advisor, advocate, and implementer for digital humanities at Yale University Library….This is an evolving specialization in librarianship, one that requires a combination of strong academic background in the humanities with technical knowledge, [and] curiosity about how technology is affecting research…We are seeking candidates with a keen interest in text mining and analysis, natural language processing, geospatial analysis, data visualization, and image analysis.
The job title is Librarian for Digital Humanities Research. Sounds pretty cool, yes?