A Conversation about Data Curation

CIRI Blog

Published: September 29, 2013 by Dr. Pat Franks

The production and dissemination of new knowledge through the practices of research and scholarship is a responsibility of every SLIS faculty member. The Center for Information and Research and Innovation (CIRI) showcases the many research-based and innovative projects in which our faculty are involved.

The production and dissemination of new knowledge through the practices of research and scholarship is a responsibility of every SLIS faculty member. The Center for Information and Research and Innovation (CIRI) showcases the many research-based and innovative projects in which our faculty are involved.

Scholarly papers are published in academic journals to share the results of this research. But sharing the finished product may not be enough. What about the data upon which the scholarly papers have been based?

I had the opportunity to participate in the 17th International Conference on Theory and Practice of Digital Libraries in Valletta, Malta, September 22-26, 2013. Buzzwords frequently heard throughout the conference included “convergence,” “Digital Curation,” and “Data Curation.”

Convergence was used in the context of education for students pursuing careers in libraries, archives, and museums. Digital Curation was a topic of discussion because of the growing need for professionals to manage, preserve, and add value to digital materials, including digital data. Data Curation was posed as a specific focus for digital curators who are tasked with storing, managing, and preserving digital research data.

The topics of convergence, digital curation, and data curation are near and dear to my heart as an educator who has a penchant for curriculum development. And I am eager to engage in developing curriculum to enable SLIS students to acquire digital and data curation competencies.

But one of the objectives of this conference was to promote a conversation around scholarly research and data curation. Data management plans (DMP) addressing how research projects will comply with the granting agency’s data sharing policy. These plans must explain what kind of data will be collected, how it will be stored and preserved, the standards to be used for data and metadata format and content, and how and when access to data will be provided. However, the question that was posed at this conference that I think should be answered first is, “Who is responsible for storing, managing, preserving and providing access to the research data?” Is it the researcher, a data curator, or a data curation service?

The researcher as a data curator

Anyone who has conducted research and written scholarly papers knows that the end product is the objective. Research data can take many different forms, including images, video, audio, databases, email, websites, and even previous publications. The storage, management, and preservation of the research data are necessary during the research process. Sharing the research data afterward has not been of primary importance. It is now, but do researchers have the skills/time to also serve as a digital curator?

The professional data curator

The person trained as a data curator understands the importance of the long-term preservation of digital data, including the opportunity to re-use and further analyze the old data. Ideally, the data curator will offer guidance and assistance to the academic researcher throughout the research process. The data curator may be a consultant employed through the grant project, an employee of a private data curation service, or provided as part of the data curation services of the academic institution.

Data curation services

A number of libraries are assuming responsibility for data curation by providing on-going management of research data through its life cycle. Georgia Tech Library’s data curation program [1] strives to provide the following capabilities: data discovery and retrieval, data quality and preservation, data re-use over time, and other value-added services. Part of their task is to determine data curation needs and build information systems and services to facilitate life cycle management of the research data. A number of projects are underway at other institutions to embed institutional data curation services into the research program.

A conversation starter

The above are my reflections on data curation. Now, I’d appreciate hearing how you, my colleagues, manage and preserve your own research data? How do you make it available for other researchers? How long after you complete your research, do you make it available? Has anyone re-used your research or added value to it? Have they cited it? Do you have the data curation skills you need to feel confident that you are complying with data management plans? If not, where can you go for assistance? If you have additional comments, please share them.

[1] http://www.library.gatech.edu/scdc/data_curation_services?destination=node/26