10 June 2014

Reflections on the path to data librarianship: Rebecca Brown, Griffith University (guest post)

My colleague Rebecca Brown took a big step in 2013 from her role as a subject librarian to project positions as a Data Librarian on two externally-funded projects involving climate change adaptation information.

I thought Rebecca would be a great person to have as a guest writer during #blogjune. In her post below she reflects on her first year in a data-related role, some of the challenges that she has faced, and the next steps that she'd like to take in terms of her professional development.

Thanks, Rebecca, for sharing your story.

Reflections on the path to data librarianship

Rebecca has worked in the academic sector for over 20 years, and fondly remembers the heady days of the early internet in libraries, when Gopher, Mosaic and online patent searching at $600/hr made life exciting. She has a background in biology and has worked as a reference librarian, liaison librarian and research librarian, most recently moving into the brave new world of data librarianship. She is currently working at Griffith University on an Australian Government-funded project which aims to strengthen the sharing and discoverability of climate change information in the Pacific region. 

For many academic librarians moving into the data management space, ‘data’ is just a word. How many academic librarians have seen a dataset recently? How many would know what to expect? How many know how a relational database works? How a content management system works? Certainly I would put myself in this category. I’ve worked as an academic librarian in the science and engineering field for many years, and also as a research assistant in my university’s Environmental Science faculty, but I still don’t really know what I mean when I talk to researchers about their ‘data’. 
For me this lack of practical knowledge and experience has been a stumbling block when it comes to getting my head around my new role as ‘data librarian’. It’s true that there is a lot of existing information out there about data and information management. Guides and training resources from the Digital Curation Centre, UK Data Archive, ANDS etc. have been a huge help, and the fact that much of the information is open licensed has meant I have been able to reuse it freely (part of my job has involved creating ‘awareness guides’ on various aspects of data and information management). Having someone as experienced as Sam as my mentor has been invaluable too. But there have been a lot of theoretical, technical concepts to absorb. Case studies which track the life cycle of a particular dataset have gone some of the way towards fleshing out the theory. But for me, what has been lacking has been the ‘hands on’ side of things. I think that if I could have been involved in a data curation project from start to finish, a lot of things would have fallen into place sooner. If I could have seen a raw dataset or data collection prepared for sharing and reuse, versioned correctly, saved in an appropriate file format, licensed, assigned a DOI, described using an appropriate metadata schema, uploaded into a content management system, and made discoverable for reuse, then I think I could have saved many hours of reading and scratching my head and bugging Sam with endless questions…. 
That is why, if I were designing a course on data librarianship, I would make a practical project like this a feature. In fact I am looking for a course like this to take in my spare time. That way, when I have to talk to a researcher about how to manage their data, I’ll really understand what I’m talking about.