Tag Archives: stories

Data management is exciting!

Trust me.

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.

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Data management, open access and more

Drinks & Data by Andrew Turner via Flickr CC

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.

Travelling suitcase library

suitcase of memories by libookperson via flickr CC

I stumbled across The Travelling Suitcase Library manifesto and was fascinated to read about this concept. This is more or less how my book club has operated over the past 10 years or so and I decided that Blog Every Day in June is a good time to tell the story.

When a group of my friends decided to start a book club, we all had small children, husbands who worked long hours or travelled, and part time jobs ourselves. The thought of having to read a particular book in a particular month seemed to be an imposition on ourselves and each other that couldn’t be supported. Book Club was meant to be relaxing ‘me time’ for us, not provide yet another pressure to get something done.

So we set up a private library. The first time we met, everyone brought a book along that they wanted to share with others and the host for the evening put in 2 books. That is the genesis of our collection and yes, it travels around in a suitcase from house to house as we take turns to host Book Club. Each month is held in a different person’s house and that person puts 2 new books into the collection. Over time, good discussions happen as there is usually 4 or 5 people in the group who have read any particular book. We developed a rating system out of 5 for the books, with 1 being ‘couldn’t finish it’ and 5 being ‘I would read it again it was so good’ and kept the records of each reader’s rating on index cards stapled into the back cover of the book. This was a crude sort of ‘reader recommendation’ system – pick up a book to read and find someone else’s opinion there ready to go.

More than 10 years on, 8 or 9 of the original 12 bookclubbers are still meeting more or less monthly and we’ve collected a few extras along the way – but there’s usually only 8 or so at any one month’s meeting. Our suitcase library, despite several culls, books returned to members who have left and a few months of “let’s not put any books in this month” is unwieldy and almost impossible to lift.

Last year we flirted briefly with getting everyone to read the same book in a month but we’re really not disciplined enough – although the kids have grown up and many of the husbands are no longer around, most of us are now facing other life-gets-in-the-way moments such as working fulltime, caring for elderly parents or battling ill health ourselves.

So this month, we’re trying something new. The group has chosen 3 books and asked us to choose one of them and read it before Book Club next month. I wasn’t at Book Club last month and didn’t have any input into the book list that was set but by chance, one of them is Caleb’s Crossing and I’m already reading it, having been given it for Mother’s Day.

Ideas worth sharing

The virtual ‘water cooler’ chat that is twitter is still running hot on the subject of  the TEDx Canberra event held last weekend.  For a pretty good look at what TED is, try the wikipedia entry here, or check out some of the many TED talk videos available free of charge here.  The little ‘x’ indicates an event run independently of ‘big’ TED but with the right to use the name, subject to conditions of format etc (anyone spot the Playschool reference in there?).

You can find out what some others attending TEDx Canberra thought by checking out a few of these blog posts:

There are many more – the organisers have put a list of blog posts up on the website or, you can search #tedxcanberra on twitter for the links posted by bloggers.

The thing that struck me the most about each and every one of the speakers at TEDx Canberra was their passion for their subject.  All of these people had an idea they passionately felt was worth sharing.  Those ideas included suicide awareness and prevention, future proofing the security of Australian banking, helping teenagers realise their dreams, tapping into the power of our minds, our communities and our networks and many, many more.

As I start to gather speed in my chosen profession, the concept of ‘what am I passionate about’ comes to mind regularly.  There’s passion about one’s field of work, demonstrated by William DeJean and Mitchell Whitelaw (I’ll bet I wasn’t the only information worker in the room hanging on his every word) and then there’s passion for something outside that – in the volunteer or social sector – unrelated to how we make our daily dollar.

TED is about ideas worth sharing.  TEDx Canberra shared many such ideas and has given me much to think about, write about and shape the things I am passionate about into something worth sharing too.

image: @newgradlib & @KatieTT braving the dark Canberra sky for a #tedxcanberra pic


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image: audience pic featuring @alearningthing, @newgradlib & @KatieTT at #tedxcanberra by Gavin Tapp via flickr

Telling stories

Yes folks, it’s another creative, collaborative, fun learning challenge from my libraryland PLN.  This time it’s story telling. #Octshowntell is designed to get us thinking about and using Web 2.0 storytelling tools.

To be honest, I was at first unsure whether to post this new activity here or on my personal blog but in the end I have decided that it’s a professional activity based around learning & using new tools, so it belongs here – even if the content of my storytelling isn’t work based (and so far it’s not).

My first effort is here then.  I’ve used xtranormal because I’m familiar with it but I’ll use something outside my comfort zone before this 4 weeks is up, I promise!  I’ve already started playing with Storybird and doing some collaboration with some small members of my extended family as a way of creating a connection with them and am keen to have a look at animoto as well.

image: Get Your Learn On by Hryck via flickr