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Data Curation

An emerging area for librarians is in research data curation. Data are the bare facts or items which may be generated from experiments, observations, surveys, etc. They become information with analysis and interpretation. Traditional library resources are the information – the final report, the article, the book. The data, however, is valuable in and of itself. It can be double checked by other researchers to verify the conclusions drawn. It can be manipulated and recombined by other researchers for new interpretations and new knowledge. Librarians have a role in making the basic data available.

Data differs from traditional information sources in a number of ways. There can be huge quantities of it. It is often stored in individual researchers’ labs, not in commonly known and accessible places (although there are some subject-oriented repositories emerging). It is saved in a variety of formats and may need a varied set of tools for manipulation for unknown future purposes. The data itself is often not well documented, since its original intent was merely to be used by the complier who knew the parameters of its collection. Librarians need to supply useful, appropriate metadata so that future manipulation, analysis and re-use are able to be done with full, accurate knowledge of the origin of the data.

Librarians not only can help researchers identify the data sources for already existing data, but they also have major roles to play in the preservation and sharing of that data. Providing expertise in data manipulation tools and in data mining is the type of contributions that will make the librarian an active partner in the research process.

Mary-Frances Panettiere
SLA-GA Past President

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