13 SPEC Kit 354: Data Curation
Despite the definitional issues noted above, it is clear from the survey responses that ARL member
libraries are increasingly interested in and engaged in providing data curation services. Many of the data
curation activities currently performed are those that have been traditionally performed by libraries to
support their collections, or are generally offered through an institutional repository. Since many libraries
reported curating a relatively small number data sets, it is not surprising to see data curation generally
treated as an extension of existing curation services delivered through existing repositories. The survey
results suggest that data are treated by many libraries as just another type of content in their collections
and do not currently receive specialized treatment or attention, though there are notable exceptions in
libraries who have made heavy investments. This may be due, at least in part, to the current low levels of
staffing dedicated to performing data curation activities. The high numbers of respondents who indicated
that they are planning to or would like to provide additional data curation services implies a strong desire
by librarians to invest in this area and improve upon current capabilities.
As we analyzed the numeric data, digested comments, and reviewed representative documents,
one major theme that emerged from the survey is the wide variability in data curation services offered.
A few institutions reported operation and maintenance of long-standing, established repositories with
a high level of sophistication across the majority of curation activities. A larger subset of respondents
recently took steps to develop and launch more robust curation services, such as curating data in an
established IR or developing a standalone data repository. A final group of survey respondents have
established core research data services, namely researcher training, data management plan reviews,
and may accept datasets into library collections, but have yet to embark on the larger suite of possible
curation activities.
The variability is likely a reflection of the growth, but not yet maturity, of data curation support
within libraries. We also found that the associated documentation of services and curation activities
varied wildly. All websites naturally look different but the content within further implied a lack of clear
definitions for data curation (and associated curation actions) as well as preservation (and associated
preservation actions). At this point, the fuzziness is both understandable and perhaps even necessary
in order to avoid paralyzing semantic conversations. However, as libraries grow and strengthen their
positions as centers of data curation, recursive efforts to convey their activities meaningfully and
consistently, both internally and externally, will be of benefit.
In looking to the future, many survey respondents expressed strong concerns about having
sufficient support, infrastructure, and staffing to keep up with an anticipated increase in demand for
data curation services. Furthermore, the comments made in the survey reveal a polarization among
respondents. Some anticipate a need to perform more complex, data-specific activities to support their
evolving services. Others are wary of making commitments they may not be able to keep or expressed
concern over whether the library is the right agency to perform these activities.
As expectations from funding agencies, publishers, scholarly organizations, and others on data
sharing and reuse continue to evolve, libraries expect that the demand for the data curation services
will increase. Providing data curation services is a challenging and a resource intensive venture for
libraries, but one that has the potential to reframe the role of libraries in providing much needed
support for research. By providing a snapshot of the current state of data curation services, staffing, and
infrastructure we hope to facilitate interest and discussion about the growth of these services and how
libraries can move them forward.
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