Sloan Digital Sky Survey, data will reach larger numbers of users dispersed
across non-traditional audiences—undergraduates, K–12 students, and
interested members of the public. This expansion in access will create a
parallel expansion in users’ need for help with data navigation across a range
of library settings.
Somewhat less obvious, perhaps, are the ways that librarians could become
middleware agents between systems and systems, and between people and
people.
Several presenters, including Catherine Blake, Fran Berman, and William
Michener, pointed to the need for mediation between different systems, and
indicated that librarians will have an opportunity to play a strong role in this
area. In order to do so, however, librarians will need the skills to negotiate
between different data systems and between different sorts and compilations
of data sets. Some key concerns in this area will be interoperability, migration,
and emulation—all points at which humans must take action in order for
systems to begin to talk with each other, and to remain interoperable over time.
Arguably the most important role for librarians as middleware in the e-
science context, however, is mediation between people and people. As Sayeed
Choudhury pointed out, “human interoperability is more difficult than
technical interoperability.” It requires trust, common vocabulary, and
negotiation of values. And often—though not always—research librarians are
uniquely well positioned to negotiate such issues within and beyond their
institutions: they can inspire the trust of a variety of actors, thus enabling them
to develop a shared vocabulary and value set. In an increasingly
interdisciplinary and collaborative research environment, the capacity for expert
mediation will become very important. Indeed, some panelists’ stories suggest
that it already has: James Mullins recounted a situation at Purdue in which
librarians were able to “bridge the gap” between researchers who did not have
a “shared vocabulary.” Medha Devare characterized Cornell Library’s
successful leadership role in the VIVO project as a consequence of their
reputation as “trusted arbiters of information.” Interdisciplinary collaboration
among researchers is increasingly important in the virtual communities formed
by networked science, but that does not mean that it will be easy. To the extent
that science librarians hold positions of trust within their communities, they will
be in a unique position to play mediating and facilitating roles within and
between those communities.
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Reinventing Science Librarianship: Themes from the ARL-CNI Forum
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FEBRUARY 2009 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
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