The Last Mile:
Liaison Roles in Curating
Science and Engineering
Research Data
Tracy Gabridge, Co-Head, Engineering and Science Libraries,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
A
new generation of cyberinfrastructure programs, including
NSF’s DataNet program, is setting high standards for
collaboration among all the parts of the research enterprise,
including researchers, information technology organizations, and libraries.
These new programs envision widespread collaboration as necessary to
addressing the urgent and enormous challenge of managing and sharing
research data to enable new scientific insights and drive innovation. Studying
the research needs of individual researchers and of the institution as a whole is
a major component of the work of library subject liaisons. As such, these
librarians are well positioned, and will be essential in building the “last mile”1
of research data cyberinfrastructure—the part of the network that will provide
connections between the systems and the researchers, and ultimately, to new
users of the data.
As daunting as the challenge of building infrastructure is the challenge of
filling it. What will encourage researchers to deposit their research data for
others to see and use for new purposes? To answer this question we may learn
from libraries’ experiences in building institutional repositories. Filling the
virtual shelves of these brave new digital commons has been a non-trivial
challenge. Successfully filling a repository requires careful study of the needs
both of the individual researchers, and of the institution, and then finding
solutions that provide valued benefits to both sets of stakeholders2.
To play a credible role in data curation, librarians must overcome significant
challenges. In science and engineering disciplines, faculty do not often see
librarians as being equipped to help them solve their data problems: they are
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AUGUST 2009 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC