The results of investigative studies done by the MIT librarians’ DIG
study group (including study of data curation efforts at several of our peer
institutions3), as well as the insight of MIT’s Social Sciences Data Services
Librarian and MIT’s GIS Services department, show that there are many roles
that liaisons can play in engineering and science data curation.
• Analysis of data set deposit requirements: The biggest part of the “last
mile” problem is to get faculty-created data sets into a permanent home so
that the data can be found and used again. Liaisons can do the project
analysis and management required to accomplish this major step. Based on
their analysis, librarians can determine the best home for the data and the
manipulation required to make it reusable by others. By taking on this role,
the librarian addresses a major obstacle for faculty, who recognize that the
overhead necessary to make the data reusable is insurmountable for them
personally. Liaisons, who have deep knowledge about the research
practices within disciplines, can neatly fill this void. In doing so they serve
effectively as “bankers” or “investment managers,” securing a higher yield
for the faculty on the investment they originally made in creating the data.
• Data management planning: Liaisons can help researchers set the stage for
depositing their data by consulting with them at the point of data creation.
Librarians can put researchers in touch with standards applicable to their
need, create a plan for managing the life cycle of the data in compliance
with their grants, and create organizing strategies for documentation, files,
backups and more.
• Teaching good data practices to students: Academic communities have a
constantly revolving community of students who arrive with varying
degrees of knowledge of good scholarly communication practices,
including, perhaps most acutely, uneven skills in data management.
Librarian subject liaisons already teach students how to be self-sufficient,
independent information consumers. This role can be easily extended to
include instruction on data management and planning. Liaisons can offer
seminars and other support mechanisms (Web page, tutorials) to help
student researchers understand what to do with their data and increase
their awareness of library resources.
• Collecting and disseminating data sets: In addition to making locally
produced science and engineering data sets available to the world, the
The Last Mile: Liaison Roles in Curating Science and Engineering Research Data
C O N T I N U E D
AUGUST 2009 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC