Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Pryor, G. (Ed.). Managing research data. London: Facet Publishing, 2012. 239 pp. ISBN: 978-1-85604-756-2. $105.
While written for librarians, the book's content will be valuable to others, as well. The central theme of the book is the following: since research data is increasingly becoming digital, managing it with long-term preservation in mind is important. Librarians have valuable skills in the collection and preservation of information, so they should make their value clearly known and help with this important endeavor. The remainder of this review explains the book's structure, shares a brief summary, and discusses the book's strengths and weaknesses. Finally, it discusses whether or not the book was successful in addressing the central theme.
Graham Pryor is the Associate Director of the Digital Curation Centre in the United Kingdom. The Digital Curation Centre (DCC) produces guidance documents, reports, training material, tools, and other resources for digital curation. Other contributors to the book are also part of the DCC, such as Sarah Jones (Chapter 3), Martin Donnelly (Chapter 5), and Angus Whyte (Chapter 10). American and Australian research data management strategies are described in Chapter 9 by Sayeed Choudhury of Johns Hopkins University, William Michener of the University of New Mexico, and Andrew Treloar of the Australian National Data Service.
At only 239 pages, the length of the book makes it a quick, easy read. The authors were able to fit considerable content within such a small number of pages. While the editor did a good job of relating all the chapters to the central theme and making it all flow, there was some overlap of content among the chapters. This is to be expected within an edited book. Nevertheless, the chapters are laid out in a logical order starting with explanations of why research data management (RDM) is important, an overview of RDM, and why librarians should be involved to explanations of how RDM is being treated in different countries, namely the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia.
The book starts out with a good overview of the field of RDM. Chapter 1 of the book is titled "Why manage research data?" This chapter successfully answers this question. To help bolster his case, the author talks about the "Doomsday Scenario" for librarians, which was a claim made by Dennis Lewis in 1979 which said librarians, as they were in 1979, would no longer be around by 2000 because of the new information age and would be replaced by computer scientists. This, of course, and thankfully, did not happen. Librarians have been successful at reinventing themselves through the years.
The book goes on to discuss the data life cycle in Chapter 2 using the Digital Curation Centre's (DCC) data life cycle as a guide. It walks through the steps of the life cycle sequentially and discusses important tasks and considerations at each step. Another prominent data lifecycle is the DataONE lifecycle, which is covered briefly in a later chapter during a comparison of research data strategies among the UK, the US, and Australia. The two life cycles contain many of the same concepts, though the wording is slightly different in each. The DCC life cycle is a more complex graphic which represents the iterative nature of data curation and management.
Next, the book raises the question of whether or not research data are sustainable (Chapter 3). Since, the author notes, data curation activities are done by data curators, by extension, we should ask the question, "Are research data curation activities sustainable?" The author claims that there will always be a bias towards devoting resources to creating new knowledge, but we should also devote resources to preserving what has been created. He gives the example of charging for access to data sets as a method by which the curation costs could be recovered. However, this is in opposition to the open access movement. Sustainability of research data and open access of research data are two opposing sides that must be reconciled.
Another chapter of the book (Chapter 5) discusses the data management plan (DMP) requirements of many funding agencies. This chapter is quite useful for librarians who are assisting faculty with preparing DMPs for grant applications, as the author thoroughly describes each part of a DMP and how one creates a DMP. Further, a checklist is provided for step-by-step guidance on crafting a DMP.
Librarians would probably be most interested in reading the chapter about roles and responsibilities of libraries and librarians (Chapter 6). The author of this chapter again makes the case for librarians' involvement in RDM. It talks about some of the things they can do to be of service and ways they can influence the conversation surrounding RDM.
The strengths of this book lie in its thorough overview of the subject and its persuasiveness of why RDM is important and why libraries should be involved. Reasons given for why librarians should be involved are quite compelling. For example, it explains the skills librarians have, such as classifying, organizing, appraising, annotating, preserving, and describing follow the phases of the data life cycles very closely. Thus, it would be a natural fit for librarians to be involved with RDM.
With all of its strong points, there are some things the book lacks. First, as mentioned earlier, some of the content within chapters is repetitive. This is probably because each chapter was written by a different person. Also, it left me wanting more, especially regarding specific tasks included in RDM. Likewise, while it talked briefly in Chapter 6 about services libraries can offer, a more thorough discussion of these services would have been helpful.
I believe the editor and authors are successful in addressing the central theme of the book: librarians should be involved in RDM. They have provided a helpful resource for anyone wanting to learn about RDM. I recommend this book to any librarian seeking to expand his or her skills and knowledge within this important area. Research university libraries would most benefit from adding this to their collection. However, even smaller libraries serving baccalaureate institutions would benefit from it if grant-funded research takes place.