Sunday, 8 February 2009

Data Walkabout 6: Brisbane, University of Queensland


From the city centre, it is a pleasant and fast ferry ride up the Brisbane River to the University of Queensland. This next Data Walkabout stop gave me the chance to chat with the dynamic Belinda Weaver (at yet another outdoor campus cafe). Although she's on secondment and not currently working on the institutional repository, my impression is that she's accomplished so much already she could be allowed to take a break.

I inquired about the institutional survey which she initiated and Margaret Henty expanded to other universities, Investigating Data Management Practices in Australian Universities. The outcomes provide a baseline of evidence at each participating institution but, like so much else in
Australia, they don't stop there, but take action to foster change.

The status quo for data management amongst researchers was - perhaps depressingly - found to be much the same as that in the UK (through SToRE, DAF and other surveys): often a junior researcher is put in charge, there is no standard practice, there aren't rewards for doing things well, and few consequences for doing it poorly. Often the problem arises only after something goes wrong and data are lost.

Problematically, universities have not seen data management as a responsibility nor something for which they need to provide services. As a direct result of this survey University of Queensland has put data management/loss into their overall risk strategy. Belinda believes a risk management approach is a powerful way to influence institutional senior management to support proper data management.

As we were sipping our coffee, Christiaan Kortekaas was walking by, and Belinda waved him over. Christiaan is the inventor of the Fez open source interface to the Fedora repository software for the University of Queensland Library, which is a competent rival to proprietary solutions. It's quite flexible, and can offer different metadata schemas (e.g. MODS, Dublin Core, etc.) and a variety of classification schemes.

As for libraries, Belinda saw multiple roles (her secondment replacements are pursuing this now). Although data management support is often in no one's job description, it is commonly repository managers who fill this void - perhaps due to the rallying encouragement of APSR, the Australian Partnership for Sustainable Repositories. Specifically, librarians could provide support in describing data structures (metadata & documentation), providing training and templates for data management; writing data rescue case studies; and exit plans for data producers leaving university. Whereas research offices tend to focus on new grants and fostering collaboration, and IT services on servers and cost recovery, libraries are in a unique position to help researchers in finding relevant tools and technology (Web 2.0, etc.) to enhance their research - just as they help them find publications literature. She even thinks that librarians should be based with faculty rather than all in the library building itself, so they can be part of the team. This has worked well, for example in the hospital, where librarians work alongside clinical researchers.

Belinda emphasised that researchers are not necessarily aware that librarians 'know stuff' about tools and technologies, so advocacy is needed. Her publicity poster urges staff and students to "join the growing number of UQ academics and researchers" who are preserving their digital research material with UQ eSpace. Smiling faces of people provide an 'imagine' scenario about materials they can deposit and the implicit benefits of doing so, making sharing research output seem the most natural thing in the world.

Here's a wee gem from Belinda: because repositories are a new service, people don't realise the huge potential. If researchers think they don't need libraries, then adding value to the research chain is vital. So: libraries should be re-purposing themselves around repositories.

No comments: