Nobel Laureate Envisions Data Curated Future

October 24, 2009, 6:41 pm

Well, look who has returned to his blog. I know… it has been awhile. Too long in fact, but I have not had a lot of time for reflection. I’m finally finding my place here and I’m excited about several projects in the works. More to share as things come together.

Last week was open access week. The big news over here was the UC’s launch of the new eScholarship. In a nutshell, they seem to be rebranding themselves from an institutional repository into a scholarly publishing service. The new interface is more intuitive and there are lots of great new bells and whistles, but… it is PDF-focused, which is too limiting for my tastes. As we head into the second decade of the 21st century we need be archiving multimedia and data, not just docs. And I’m not alone—

Two weeks ago, I spoke with recent Nobel Laureate Carol W. Greider. She was gracious enough to fit The Ubiquitous Librarian into her busy schedule somewhere between NPR, NY Times, and all the other media outlets seeking her attention. (Thanks to her accommodating staff!) Anyway, the purpose of my interview was to tap into her memory of her time at UCSB and most particularly the library. I was curious about the path one takes at becoming a world-class scientist, and the experiences and influences that shape it. You can read about it here.

Toward the end of our talk I brought up topics such as the future of libraries, the future of scholarship, and the future of publishing. I was hoping that Greider would give a great quote about Open Access, but we didn’t head in that direction. I didn’t want to push it too much because the debate is very political and I didn’t want to drop her into those waters. But…

Greider did hit on one theme that is gaining momentum in the academic library world: data curation. She admitted that she was not currently taking advantage of any service (Hopkins, can I get a finders fee?) but that she imagined in five years it would be very common. She further stated that the problem right now is standardization and that it would be nice if a uniform format was adopted.

Expanding on that she added that universities mandate that researchers keep notebooks. The data belongs to the school; it is the institution’s intellectual property. A digital form of these notebooks will be a need in the future… possibly a role of the library? This is record keeping for the 21st century; the lifecycle of research, not just the results. Kind of like this Cambridge product, but broader. Right now the profession seems to be most interested in data curation in terms of how it relates to open access — scientists across the world sharing and collaborating digitally… resulting in new discoveries much more quickly.  That’s the dream. But even in a closed system, there seems to be a role for the library. I am sure that The Office of Research, The Data Warehouse Office, or whatever office on your campus envisions themselves in this way as protectors, but I hope this is not another big missed opportunity (like indexing the web) for our profession. This is another resource we have to expand our identity beyond “book people” and demonstrate that we can archive other stuff too.

I know I am late to the table with the rah rah for data curation, but here is some background reading for those interested:

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