21 May 2014

What do librarians want from data management workshops?

As awareness increases of the role that librarians can play in facilitating improved research data management, so does the need to provide existing university library staff with professional development opportunities. High quality research data management training materials targeted at librarians are now available, including the DIY Research Data Management Training Kit for Librarians (University of Edinburgh), Essentials for Data Support (Universities of Delft, Eindhoven and Twente, with the Netherlands Data Archiving and Networked Services) and RDMRose (Universities of Sheffield, Leeds and York). In determining whether these materials are appropriate for re-purposing in our own organisations, it is worth asking librarians themselves what they want, so that we can ensure that professional development satisfies both institutional demands and also the needs of the people being asked to move into this new area.

In 2013 I ran three workshops on research data management for Library and Learning Services (LLS) staff at Griffith University. LLS has a number of functions so staff attending were from a variety of roles including academic services librarians, learning advisors, and members of our Library and IT Help team.

I plan to write more about the structure and content of this workshop in a future post, but thought it would be interesting to highlight the responses I received to an activity at the start of the session. I asked attendees to write down on a sticky-note the answer to the question "What is the one thing you would like most to get out of today?"

It was suprisingly easy to categorise the responses that attendees had provided. The graph below shows the rough breakdown of responses from twenty-six of the attendees (one response about another aspect of research support entirely has been excluded).

Breakdown of what library and learning services staff wanted to get out of a research data management workshop

Half of the respondents wanted to know what research data management meant for the library or for her/him as an individual in a role that may potentially change:
"Where Griffith is currently at in terms of research data management. My role in RDM processes and services - if there is one? (Or how I could contribute?)"
A smaller group (approximately a third) identified their primary interest as finding out more about research data management in general. Several respondents qualified this by mentioning processes and tools, the university's strategic context, or a desire to understand both the current situation as well as what is on the horizon:
"A better understanding of Griffith’s data management research process now and in the future"
About a sixth of the overall respondents focused specifically on one critical aspect of data management support and were seeking information about how to communicate with researchers:
"To know how to explain the importance of data management to academics"
"Understand the area sufficiently to speak to academics"
I recently went back to these sticky-notes as part of thinking about our next steps in research data management engagement at Griffith. Existing resources such as those mentioned above can build librarians' awareness about research data management in general, and may even suggest strategies for communicating with researchers (Essentials for Data Support is particularly strong in this regard); however, it seems clear that staff will still need specifics about institutional tools and processes available to researchers and guidance about what activities to undertake, who those activities should target, and what the outcomes ideally would be.

Librarians want professional development opportunities that explicitly address their changing roles and provide them with the information and tools they need to take action. Feeling 'up to speed' theoretically with data lifecycles, funding agency requirements and changes in international scholarly communication is important, but that knowledge must be supplemented with preparation for one or more discrete chunks of work - whether it is a data interview, running a training workshop or responding to a query about storage options - that individuals are expected to take on (hopefully in an enjoyable and sustainable way!) and that should make a demonstrable difference to research practice in their institution.