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Defining Data Librarian - call for comments

Tiffani Conner, Paula Lackie and Jen Darragh are working on the handouts for an ALA poster session and have found that defining "data" and "data librarian" clearly, in a concise manner, for a non-data audience is really hard. In addition, some of the sources they consulted (the Online Dictionary of Library and Information Science - ODLIS , Oxford English Dictionary ) were not adequate (ODLIS has data, data set, social science data set but the definitions are not that great). They also looked at Wikipedia, and there is nothing for data librarian. This raises a question: would IASSISTers be interested in crafting a definition of "Data Librarian" for Wikipedia? We can start by collecting comments in the blog, and then move it over to Wikipedia once we have a full definition. We've crafted a working definition (keep in mind that we are speaking to a traditional library audience) as a place to start. Data librarianship is an ad hoc term. In essence, it is the application of traditional librarianship principles and practices to data resources. Data librarianship involves one or more of the following; acquisition (collection development), organization (cataloging and metadata), and the implementation of appropriate user services


Comments? Suggestions? Please let us know. - Submitted by Jen Darragh


Facinating subject this . I

Facinating subject this . I suppose define a term in a time of flux is a hard task. I am impressed by the high quality of the comments. Good to see such work getting the best out of internet. Don Lapre is a Superstar

The only things I'd add: -

The only things I'd add: - liaison work to other functions in a university (e.g. IT, departmental computing labs that manage software, etc.) - and I'd echo what Jim last said. Some librarians will identify w/new efforts to support faculty not only as info. users but also as info. producers (e.g. institutional repositories). Helping faculty as data producers is an example of this role.

Here is one more idea. DDI 3

Here is one more idea. DDI 3 allows us to think of data in a different way and this encourages me to think of some new roles for the data librarian. Specifically DDI 3 allows us to think of data as part of a life-cyle of information starting before data are collected, continuing through a lot of steps including the deposit of data and documentation in a data library or archive, and on to the use and re-use and re-purposing of the data (and the metadata!). This opens up the possibility of the data librarian working with researchers at the earliest stages of research: helping with the documetation process and ensuring that the data will be preservable, usable, and re-usable for the long-term. This may not be easily explained to traditional librarians yet, but I'm encouraged that Jane says they are beginning to think in bigger terms at Columbia. Framing data-services in a way that sounds familiar and a bit less threatening to the traditional librarian may be a good first step for some, but framing it in a bigger picture of the future of library services may attract others who are looking to the future of libraries.

I know that this has been

I know that this has been said already, but I believe that data librarianship boils down to service -- and in the extended sense of service that Jane and Jim have described in earlier postings to this item. Data reference is a consultative process, which Cindy's sample reference question clearly exhibits. I am fearful that too many library directors today look upon public service as an information centre with a help desk. The mission of a help desk is to provide an answer to a close-ended question, which might be ideal for someone who wants to know the SPSS command that produces a table. Research, however, is a process of discovery where there are few close-ended questions. I see data librarianship closely aligned to research. The first characteristic that I would assign to data librarianship is a profession dedicated to consultative services for assisting others in finding, accessing and using statistical information (by which I mean both statistics and data.) These services are especially relevant to those conducting evidence-based research. I have been asked in the past who I would hire as a data librarian if I had to pick from among a systems librarian, a cataloguer or a general reference librarian. The person asking this question is usually operating with clear stereotypes in mind. A systems librarian is seen as someone very competent with computing technology; a cataloguer is viewed as someone keenly attentive to detail; and the general reference librarian is someone who works well with the public. As a generalization, my choice is a good general reference librarian. While people skills are important in providing service, I find good reference librarians also have strong consultative skills. They navigate the reference interview with the skill of an explorer in search of new lands, where the journey is as important as the destination. If I can find a person with these skills, I have always found that they can be taught the computing technology needed to work with data.

Speaking of data services,

Speaking of data services, and how those services differ from those of traditional subject specialist librarians, here is a "typical" (as if there were any such thing) data reference question followed by my response. I've edited the question somewhat for the sake of confidentiality. In this case I think it's the response rather than the question that differentiates this from a traditional library reference question. QUESTION: I am an undergrad at UW-Madison and am assisting a professor in the Department of Sociology with his research this summer. As one of my assignments, the professor asked me to collect data concerning unemployment and self-employment in Chicago, broken down by race and gender. Searching the internet and some of the UW library's online resources has left me with little to work with. One of the librarians at Memorial Library, however, directed me to your library as a place where I may be able to find what I'm looking for. I'd like to stop in tomorrow afternoon to at least briefly sit down with someone and talk about where to look for the data sets I seek. ANSWER: Sure, you can stop in tomorrow afternoon and I'd be happy to give you the "tour". However, before that, it would help narrow things down if you could refine your search for "data concerning unemployment and self-employment in Chicago, broken down by race and gender." Are you seeking microdata -- individual responses to a questionnaire that must be analyzed with statistical software? Or are you searching for summary data such as a table found in the Statistical Abstract of the U.S.? Or are you searching for an application that allows you to plug in certain criteria and output results? Equally importantly, what time span are you looking at? Last year? The last 10 years? The last 50 years? On an annual basis? Decennial basis? Does your geographic area have to be the city of Chicago, or would Cook county suffice? Answering these questions will help expedite this process.

I don't have a concise

I don't have a concise definition for data librarian or data services. However, I would like to share our mission and governance statement with you. For your poster session, you can give out some real data-related reference questions. If people have correct answers, they get a piece of chocolate. I can some good ones. :-) Lu

Thank you to everyone for

Thank you to everyone for your comments. We did add a definition of data as well to our handout. We tried to keep it short, and to account for both microdata and prepared stats (again, this is a working definition, taking into account bits and pieces of what we found in other sources): What is data? The word “data” encompasses a lot of concepts, and often is used synonymously with the term information. In the purview of data librarians, “data” represents collected information that has been: …Rendered into prepared statistics (graphs, tables, charts, thematic maps) that can be interpreted to answer a specific information need (e.g. how many high school students from Pennsylvania are college-bound). These prepared statistics can be in both print (World Almanac, Statistical Abstract of the United States) and dynamic electronic formats (American Fact Finder). …Made available as an electronic file with numeric values that can be manipulated through statistical analyses and interpreted for a specific information need. These numeric data files are used most often by sophisticated analysts (academic and non-academic) for research purposes. An electronic data file is typically called a data set. Jane, I completely agree about the mix of services being what makes data librarianship unique. That is an important point we hope to make during the poster session. Jen

Jim, I was interested to

Jim, I was interested to read that you "think that data-services will at some point be a model for library services in general." The librarians here in the Social Science library at Columbia are brain storming about doing just that.

That is a really good point,

That is a really good point, Jane! Traditional librarians may think of a smaller or different set of service than data librarians do, although I'd like to think that data-services will at some point be a model for library services in general as libraries deal increasingly with digital materials and become more of a lab than a warehouse. But, to the point: how to epxress that in a definition? I'm sure we could all add our list of a mix of stuff we do as examples of what the "services" in data services means. You've given us a good start! Jen, et al.: do you want more of this?

I would fear that "data

I would fear that "data resources" might be too broad a term for librarians who are not familiar with the field. Are you going to offer a definition of what "data resources" means? Perhaps an analogy would help them understand: as map librarians deal with maps, so we deal with data - except that less of the data we deal with is probably in print than are map collections. I think it's important that you make it clear that there is a wide scope to the activities of a data librarian. The level and extent of the service that we offer varies dramatically from institution to institution. It may MORE involved than indicated by Kathleen (e.g., fixing documentation and identifying problems with the actual data sources for repair by the distributor), or it may be as simple as providing users with access to data (whether through local services or via other agencies or data providers). I don't know if this helps or not, unfortunately :-(

Kathleen lists “reference

Kathleen lists “reference service,” Jim “service,” and Jen “user service.” In the ALA world these will likely be interpreted as assistance with finding the appropriate resource. My experience is that when working with data the service also often includes explaining to users what they have and, in some institutions, helping patrons use the data. These service components can be: telling users that data are more than numbers (it can include codebooks, documentation, questionnaires, program code as well as numbers), helping users to understand what is in the codebook, reformatting data into something a users can work with, and helping with statistical methodology. Not all data librarians provide all these services, but whatever services a data librarian provides, it is likely different than the concept of service held by other librarians. I view the mix of services provided by a data librarians as the aspect that is unique in data librarianship.

Kathleen Murphy made this

Kathleen Murphy made this comment to the list: When I was hired for this job in January, 2006, I did actually go through the exercise of defining data services librarian for myself as part of my getting a handle on developing a mission statement and a collection development policy. Granted I am both new to the profession and new to data services but I hope this adds to the mix: A data services librarian uses the core values, ethical principles, professional skill and knowledge of librarianship to: 1. acquire, maintain, and manage a collection of data files used for secondary analysis; 2. provide reference service, technical assistance, and ensure access to data files for faculty, staff, and students; and 3. provide teaching regarding access and use of the data sets and serve as a liaison to related social science subject areas.

I'd suggest adding

I'd suggest adding "selection" to acquisition, organization, and service. I know it is implied, but I think it worth making it explicit. Even in a very traditional library with little or no data services as we in IASSIST think of them, "selection" can be a service that a data librarian performs -- even if it is no more than selecting data on the net and pointing users to useful sites. I also suggest adding "preservation" to the mix. Although I've always tried to differentiate between data libraries and data archives -- with archives having a greater role in preservation -- i think the distinctions and roles overlap more and more these days. And "preservation" could include participation and membership in organizations like ICPSR that provide preservation. One final thought: keep the definition general enough to encompass a wide range of service models in different library environments. Perhaps the best way to do that is to focus the definition on *service*.

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