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Exploring Research Data Management (RDM)

A closer look at Research Data Management (RDM)

Facet Commissioning Editor Damian Mitchell interviews Exploring Research Data Management author Andrew Cox about RDM and its importance in the current day. If you're curious about RDM, there's never been a better time than now to join CILIP as you'll receive your own free copy of Andrew's book during October 2018. Simply enter the promotional code HEBOOK at the checkout to claim your free copy when you join.

Why is RDM an important topic now?

A combination of inter-related factors have built up in the last decade to make managing research data a key issue for academic libraries, notably:

  • The “deluge” of digital data created in many subjects, such as in e-science;
  • Funders of research mandating RDM and often data sharing;
  • The crisis of reproducibility in some subjects – leading to a call for sharing of data that underlies publications;
  • Publisher mandates that also require data associated with a publication to be made available.
  • Attempts by commercial suppliers to create new business opportunities around RDM;
  • A more ideological campaign for open science or scholarship.

To me these imply slightly different priorities. For example: while some drivers are premised on open data, others have a broader scope implying the need of all researchers to manage data better, even if there is no intention to share it.

What are the key challenges?

The evidence suggests that there remain some significant barriers to promoting ideas about RDM. One is that although funders often mandate data sharing, they do not necessarily enforce this mandate or offer more resources to achieve institutional compliance. Libraries are engaging strongly with this agenda, but still lack the resources and skills to develop all the services they would like to. Another key issue is the very different research cultures in different subject areas: it’s hard to generalise about what data are and what managing data implies in different fields of study. Plenty of scholars would never think of themselves collecting “data”, yet could benefit from better research data management. This implies that the culture change required for improving RDM is likely to be a long term challenge. Indeed, motivating academics to engage with RDM is often hard. They have so many other priorities.

In the book we try and write a bit about how to deal with this complexity.

What skills do I need to contribute in the RDM area?

Librarians already have lots of skills that can help in the RDM context, because of their focus on managing information effectively, on promoting search, and their interest in long term preservation. Their leadership in open access gives them a natural role in RDM too, in so far as this relates to open data. So librarians’ existing skills, with a little “translation” to the specifics of research data can be converted to apply to the RDM context well.

There are a number of other skills that are needed that most librarians might need to develop. I would pick out: knowledge of research methods as key. We need to know more about how research is conducted, what data are in particular fields, and the subject specific issues about their management (eg relevant standards).

How might it impact the role of the librarian?

RDM is relevant to many existing library roles: for the liaison librarian it implies more training needs among users and an extension of the scope of information literacy. For the repository manager it implies new forms of content to be managed.

It may also refashion library roles more fundamentally, eg through creating new roles embedded in research teams or creating work supporting researchers analyse or visualise data.

Where can librarians and information professionals go to learn more about RDM?

I see our book as a starting point for a personal exploration of a fascinating topic, with good job prospects! There are many more resources to draw on: a bewildering range in fact.

If you are in the UK the Digital Curation Centre web site is a fabulous resource. There are many tools, reports and examples of relevant policies and procedures on the web site.

A recent report that is well worth reading is the study by JISC of FAIR in practice.

You will also want to explore developments around the new shared research data service. The four part OCLC report on the Realities of Research Data Management is also a useful resource.

Maybe the most relevant conference is the International Digital Curation Conference (IDCC), which will be in Melbourne early in 2019.

For more training materials see the Foster project.


Contributor: Andrew Cox

Published: 16 October 2018

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