Thursday, 22 January 2009

Data Walkabout: University of Auckland

The first stop on the data walkabout was not Australia - but Auckland, New Zealand. The wonderful Leonie Hayes, Research Repository Librarian at University of Auckland was my host on 5 January: at the start of their summertime. I first met her at Open Repositories 2008 (Southampton), also she came for a study visit to Edinburgh near the same time. The University Libraries of Auckland and Edinburgh have a connection going back years, as they both use DSpace software for their repositories. Both Janet Copsey, the University Librarian, and Brian Flaherty, the IT manager, have visited Edinburgh. They graciously returned the hospitality to an Edinburgher and Brian invited others to come over in the future. (Simon and Morag - you were particularly named!)

Leonie organised a nicely rounded day including a tour of the library and Learning Centre (summer school was beginning), meetings with the abovementioned plus John Garraway - Digital Services Manager,
and Chris Wilson – Associate University Librarian Access Services, as well as a teleconference to discuss data management plans with others. Prof. Mark Gahegan, an academic, had been invited, but someone was bound to be on holiday. He does, incidentally, have the most interesting and fanciful biography on his home page that I ever did see.

After a nourishing working lunch, Brian gave an overview of BestGRID and the New Zealand Social Science Data Service. BestGRID is funded by the Tertiary Education Commission to work with the KAREN infrastructure (think bandwidth infrastructure) to develop collaboration tools, a computational grid, and a data grid. They successfully use AccessGrid for Universities and the Crown Research Institutes to collaborate, as well as ERO - a desktop version of a videoconferencing tool. Sakai has proven useful as a research collaboration tool - probably more so than for e-learning. They 'shibbolised' the computational grid, and are considering both a crosswalk for discipline-specific application ontologies, and a library role for metadata registries of middleware in future development. The data grid hosts large amounts of distributed data; examples include an earthquake project, an Austronesian language database and a gene microarray facility.

The NZ Social Science Data Service is a collection of election and health surveys marked up in DDI and delivered online via Nesstar, with authenticated access, but as we discussed, not a lot of data is available in New Zealand for free at the point of use, and everyone is thinking of cost recovery for data distribution. Janet is leading the Kiwi Research Information Service (similiar to Australian ARROW, with a focus on theses into digital repositories) which may be able to influence government agencies to omit longstanding charging mechanisms for academic use of data. The data service has a history involving the New Zealand Social Statistics Network with some initial assistance from the Australian Social Science Data Archive (ASSDA) at the Australia National University. The data service faces a possibly precarious future yet it is hoped by the PI that the Library at Auckland will be keen to take over stewardship. There is some interest in hiring a data librarian there.

In the teleconference, we heard from Barbara Taylor at University of Otago, who has an interest in data management not just from the Library, but for the University more generally; and Isabella Cawthorne from MORST, a central government department interested in finding ways to incentivise researchers to do better data management as part of research funding; and Gillian Eliot at Otago, who recently completed a survey of 75 researchers. She found out they were not hostile to improving data management practices, but cited lack of time and support, which could indicate a library role. We discussed the Lessons Learned documents from the Data Audit Framework projects in the UK, and whether institutions need to be bold in developing data policies and asserting their ownership of data collected by staff. It was agreed academics are concerned about tough competition for funding and yet that data management not take away from capacity to do research itself.

John Garraway introduced an interesting musing of whether the Public Records Act could be used to push academics in the direction of sharing. Suddenly it occurred to me all our painstaking Data Audit Framework interviews and inventories might have been in vain and we could have simply filed a Freedom of Information Request to our own university! (Or maybe not.)

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