StORe outcomes, SPECTRa-T, AHDS funding

June 13, 2007

Earlier this week I attended JISC’s Dealing with the Data Deluge conference; part of their digital repositories programme work. The presentations were good, and more importantly there were some very interesting thoughts flying around in coffee rooms, dinner halls and pubs.

One of the stand out presentations for me was John MacColl’s presentation on the findings of the StORe project, which was investigating issues around data repositories and linking research publication repositories to data repositories. Two items in particular caught my notice.

Firstly, StORe found that whilst academia treats PhD students very differently to postdoctoral researchers, their data management, curation and reposition requirements are the same. This is interesting from my point of view on the SPECTRa-T project; it’s reassurance that SPECTRa-T will be relevant to the wider problem of chemistry publications even though our focus is on theses.

It’s also encouraging for anyone who wants the state of the art in data repositories to move forward, since this will almost inevitably require changes in the behaviour of researchers and PhD candidates tend to be more open to change.

The second thing that particularly caught my notice was StORe’s conclusion that data curation is difficult task which we cannot / should not burden researchers with. Additionally, it’s so specialised that the expertise probably can’t be provided at an institutional level, but could be successfully handled by a number of (perhaps peripatetic) specialist data librarians (e.g. funded by JISC).

This strikes a chord; from my early experiences with chemistry data on the DSpace@Cambridge project building the WWMM collection there, it was clear to me that a centralized institutional repository service could not hope to effectively preserve specialist scientific data. It seemed to me that preservation could only be achieved by a collaboration between people with curation expertise (librarians) and domain expertise on data formats and trends. Thinking on it more I’ve decided that you can apply this not just to “specialist scientific data”, but to any data that isn’t in the usual run of office and web formats. John’s findings are a more wide ranging statement of this, applying to all of curation, not just to preservation. It’ll be interesting to see whether and how the JISC or other funding bodies take this idea up.

As John pointed out (supported by Chris Rusbridge subsequently), this all makes the AHRC’s strange decision to cease funding for the AHDS particularly disappointing, especially since AHDS are providing a service that’s pretty close to John’s vision. Let’s hope this petition has some positive impact.

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