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Conversations on Data Management: An RDAP Review

Thanks to the generous support of NEASIST, I was able to attend the Research Data Access & Preservation (RDAP) Summit earlier this month in Atlanta, Georgia. As a student (now recent grad!) of the Simmons College School of Library and Information Science, I first became interested in data management during a Scientific Research Data Management course taught by Elaine Martin and a teaching team from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, including my fellow travel grant recipient, Regina Raboin. This course provided a solid foundation in research data management, as well as practical training in conducting a data interview and creating a data management plan. This past semester, I've been able to apply the knowledge and skills I developed during this course as the Research Data Manager Intern at Harvard Medical School, where I've been helping to conduct outreach to biomedical researchers to understand their data management needs and practices.

I arrived at RDAP with a strong interest in data literacy and a desire to understand how information professionals could fulfill an instructional role in research data services. Many of the panels and talks presented a variety of ways in which libraries and institutions are fulfilling that role, from workshops to special events, and this has helped to evolve my thinking around this topic. Overall, however, my experience at RDAP has inspired me to think more broadly about research data services, about how institutions can build sustainable data management programs, by using their resources efficiently and effectively evaluating their success.

The question of sustainability was addressed specifically in one panel, where panelists from James Madison University, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Michigan shared their ideas about the considerations of technology, management, and strategic planning in building sustainable services, but the theme continued throughout the two days of the conference. The panel on “Building the Research Data Community of Practice” brought together speakers who shared ways that the research data community is coming together to collaborate and learn from each other—from communities, such as DataQ, the Escience Portal for New England Librarians, and Datacure, to events, such as the Virginia Data Management Boot Camp and the Midwest Data Librarian Symposium. Another panel, “Measuring Up: How Are We Defining Success for Research Data Services?”, presented various approaches to the assessment of research data services, as well as a frank discussion of challenges in conducting evaluations. Many libraries are using tracking systems such as LibAnswers to track their data management interactions, but also recognized that these tools cannot easily or accurately portray the nature of the interactions, or the time commitment involved. Institutions with data repositories, who are tracking a variety of statistics on downloads, page traffic, and user engagement, shared their approaches to visualizing and understanding this data for evaluation purposes. Understanding and utilizing resources effectively was a theme throughout these presentations, especially during a panel on “Engaging Liaisons", which explored how liaison librarians could best be involved in data management, drawing on their skills in advocacy, outreach, and relationship building. These panels, as well as the lightning talks, poster presentations, and informal conversations that filled in the rest of the conference's busy schedule, have encouraged me to think not just about the types of research data services that should be offered, but how these services should be constructed, managed, and evaluated—in essence, applying the much-beloved lifecycle model to the services themselves.

When I applied for the NEASIST student travel grant, I saw RDAP as a great way to learn more about emerging trends in data management and connect with professionals working in this area, and my experience at the conference exceeded these expectations. The ideas and conversations that I had while at RDAP were overwhelmingly motivating, and I would like to see other LIS students have this opportunity in future. One of the most controversial topics at the conference was the cost of attendance, which many worried was limiting attendance and shutting out valuable contributions. Next year's conference planners are committed to lowering these barriers, which is a positive step forward, but this discussion underlined for me how fortunate I feel to have been given this opportunity by NEASIST. I look forward to sharing more of my thoughts from the conference at the NEASIST Summer Picnic in June, and I thank NEASIST again for their generous support.

To see slideshows from many of the panels and talks that I mentioned in this blog post, see the ASIST Slideshare account.

-Anna Newman