Monday, July 19, 2010

Thoughts from IATUL

Guest Post by Willow Dressel

E-Science and science data seemed to be hot topics at SLA this year.  We heard everything from presentations on what some of our colleagues are doing in the area, buzz about the NSF Data Management Plan grant proposals requirements, and some questions from our colleagues of whether or not librarians can or should be trying to get involved in this new area.

After the SLA conference in New Orleans, several PAM members (myself included) continued on to Purdue for the 31st Annual IATUL conference - The Evolving World of e-Science: Impact and Implications for Science and Technology Libraries. During the Astronomy Roundtable at SLA, one of our colleagues asked if I might be willing to share my thoughts on IATUL with the rest of the PAM division after the conference. I asked some of the other dual conference attendees to share their thoughts as well. Margaret Dominy from Drexel University and Michael Peper from Duke University both had something to add. You will find all of our thoughts below.

You can find the conference program at and the conference papers are available at

Willow Dressel - Princeton University
The conference was very well put together, with presentations from people all along the science data spectrum, including individual projects, collaborations within and across research fields, and even nationwide initiatives. Presenters included librarians, researchers, a Microsoft VP, and more. I’m still reading through the papers of the sessions I didn’t get a chance to attend.

One of my big realizations was that researchers want librarians to be involved. Some even seem to think of working with science data as a natural extension of a librarian’s current roles. To me, the strongest example of this is that of Richard Kron, the project director of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, asking the library at his home institution the University of Chicago for help with coming up with a long term storage solution for the data from the project to map a quarter of the sky.1

Additionally, I identified three things people are doing at other institutions that I think would be a good place for my institution to start getting involved in the e-science conversation.
  1. Create a working group or advisory group to survey the literature and look for ways for the library to get involved.
  2. Collaborate with IT to perform a user needs assessment for researchers.
  3. Develop a Data Management workshop for faculty and graduate students.
Margaret Dominy – Drexel University
Although, instinctively, I am aware that different disciplines will have different data collecting practices, habits and needs, I was totally impressed by the “lightning round” of scientists presenting their data practices.  In this session three scientists from agriculture, engineering and nutrition discussed some of their research processes and data collection with varying degrees of data management.  I rarely involved myself (hardly more than curiosity) in this aspect of the research process, since I believed one of my key roles was to be sure my researchers had access to information to perform their research and publish.    This “lightning round” session sparked in me the resolution to approach my researchers to assess their data habits and how I might be able to give support.  All this is just one part of the whole data curation discussion which I found to be enlightening in all the IATUL sessions. 

Besides this, the opportunity to meet librarians from all over the world in the “working” conference and the evening social events was for me, who is quite socially awkward, a wonderful experience.  My “library” world expanded.  Also, the Purdue librarians were fantastic hosts!

Michael Peper – Duke University
My overall take-away from the conference was that there is clearly a role for libraries to collect, describe and provide services for research data.  However, this doesn’t mean that libraries need to play every role in the data life cycle and each institution should try to find the role that makes sense locally.


1. B. Kern et al., “The SDSS and e-science archiving at the University of Chicago Library,” in International Association of Scientific and Technological University Libraries, 31st Annual Conference, 2010, 9.



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