In January 2011, the National Science Foundation began requiring that all grant applications include a data management plan.
Immediately, librarians at research institutions throughout the country found themselves on the front lines of a new professional discipline that sort of aligned with their skills… or at least was something they could probably figure out.
Since then, MLIS and iSchool grad schools have been adding data science and data management to their curricula as quickly as possible, positioning their students for this emerging career path. However, those research librarians already in place have generally had to master this new discipline in the moment and on the fly, sharing best practices and lessons learned where they can.
If this sounds like you, you may want to pick up Data Management for Libraries by Laura Krier and Carly A. Strasser (Library and Information Technology Association, American Library Association, 2014).
Krier and Strasser, both with the California Digital Library (Krier as metadata librarian and Strasser as data curation specialist), provide “a primer on data – on why and how data should be effectively managed.” Especially helpful, their why and how includes not only the basics of organizing, preserving, managing, and providing access to the data itself but also how to manage relationships with key stakeholders. Their goal: to help you most effectively help your researchers.
What is data management?
The brief guide leads off with an introductory chapter that lays out the basics: types of research data, how data has been and may be shared, descriptions of a data management plan, data curation, the data lifecycle, and the librarian’s role in achieving data management goals.
The authors then devote subsequent chapters to providing more detailed overviews of data management plans, doing data management interviews, metadata, data preservation, access, and data governance issues. Each of these brief chapters provides information to orient you within the specific activity or process, including enough detail to get you started (and depending on the complexity of the project, finished). Three appendixes – resources for institutional repositories, sample data librarian job descriptions, and sample data management plans – round out the primer.
When you’re just getting started
Librarians just stepping into a data management role or contemplating doing so will especially appreciate Chapter Two, “Starting a New Service.” Krier and Strasser paint a realistic but helpful picture of the challenges you’ll face:
Stating a new data management service is much like starting any new service; you need staff who are willing to take on new roles and responsibilities, you need to identify the members of your community who could benefit from the service, and you need to be sure that what you are offering meets the needs of your users. The struggle for resources in libraries is a well-known issue, so investing time, energy, and money into something new must be done thoughtfully and with a good balance of caution and initiative.
In addition, the authors counsel,
When deciding on the scope of services you want to offer, it is important to think honestly about your strengths and about the ability of your staff to take on new tasks, or of your library to hire dedicated librarians to run a data management service.
In other words, it will be your job to determine what level of data management support your library and staff can provide relative to the financial resources available.
Data management in research libraries – and elsewhere
The focus of Data Management for Libraries is academic libraries and scholarly research; however, the slim guide may also provide basic guidelines for LIS professionals in other types of organizations looking at data management initiatives.
In addition, although there are numerous data management and data science books now available (a check with Amazon shows 99,625 results for books with “data management” in their titles), the specific focus on librarians and the authors’ pragmatic tone make this an especially useful resource.
Krier, Laura and Carly A. Strasser. Data Management for Libraries: A LITA Guide. American Library Association, 2013. 112p. ISBN 978-1555709693.