Monday, 9 March 2015

Library Research Data Services - how does Australia compare?

Carol Tenopir and her co-authors recently published an article on Research data management services in academic research libraries and perceptions of librarians in Library & Information Science Research. The article draws on the results of two studies: librarians' RDS practices in U.S. and Canadian academic research libraries, and the RDS-related library policies in those or similar libraries.

In the article, research data services are categorised in two ways:
1. Informal or consulting services such as consultation on data management plans or providing reference support for finding and citing data and datasets.
2. Technical or hands-on services such as providing technical support for a data repository or directly participating with researchers on a project (as a team member).
The article fleshes out the categorisation with additional examples and the authors found that the first type is more commonly offered than the second, but not by much. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the authors’ reveal that "The most commonly offered or planned informational RDS, finding and citing datasets, is a service that simply extends a familiar library reference service into the realm of data".

Research Data Services in Australia
Thinking about this in the Australian context, I don’t think we could draw the same distinctions. Our library research data services – which are still few and far between - seem far more blended and I’ve not yet heard of Australian RDS that offer reference support for finding datasets. In fact, I think our RDS are probably more weighted toward the second (technical) category, but only just. This is probably because our RDS came into being sometime after significant funding was provided to institutions by ANDS to develop infrastructure and grow the research data commons. The focus was on technical infrastructure and services, not consultancy services, which were developed somewhat later (if at all).

Looking back at the presentations on ‘Developing library research data services’ at an ANDS webinar in September last year, we learned that:
·      Flinders University offered a wide range of RDS including: referral to collaboration options; eResearch tools and services; assistance with ARC funding applications; training for HDR students; metadata creation; advice about compliance with funder/publisher mandates.
·      University of Western Australia’s RDS offered: data management planning tool; institutional research data storage tool; ‘Research Data Online’ for access and discovery of UWA datasets.
·      University of the Sunshine Coast RDS offered: data management planning and a central storage space.

All three services were still developing and staff were on a steep learning curve. Amanda Nixon from Flinders called RDS “giving people what they didn’t know they wanted”. She highlighted the role of the library in offering RDS leveraging a natural link with researchers and their research outputs.

It’s interesting that in Australia, our libraries collaborate more widely than our North American counterparts with respect to Research Data Services (judging by the aforementioned article). All of the three Australian RDS examples above mentioned collaborations with a range of internal partners (e.g. IT services, ethics, research office) and external partners (e.g. statewide eResearch providers, national infrastructure providers such as RDSI).

Training opportunities
The article by Tenopir and colleagues also notes that, "There appears to be somewhat of a mismatch between what academic research library directors believe they offer to their librarians and what the librarians themselves perceive to be available to them in the way of RDS training opportunities. Nonetheless, these results portend well for the future of RDS, as there are clearly some opportunities for training of librarians in RDS skills."


I wonder whether the same mismatch occurs in Australia. I had the pleasure of facilitating an ANDS-CAUL workshop on research data in Auckland last year specifically for the heads of university libraries. The workshop reflected a real concern between UL’s about how to provide their librarians with training in managing research data. Our North American colleagues said that attending conferences was the preferred method of training, followed by courses and in-house training. In Australia, our conference opportunities are more infrequent. ANDS has been providing workshops for librarians, research managers etc that can help fill some of the gaps, however serious attention needs to be paid to this area. It will be interesting to see this develop over the next few years as libraries continue to grow their offerings of research data services and develop the skills of their librarians in this key area.

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