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Report on Access to Scientific Research Data

The final report of the Canadian National Consultation on Access to Scientific Research Data has just been released containing eighteen recommendations to improve open access to research data in Canada. While some of these recommendations are unique to the Canadian context, others share a close relationship with the recommendations of the International Council for Science report, Scientific Data and Information.Supported by the National Research Council of Canada, a task force was established in June 2004 to provide advice about improving access to scientific research data. NCASRD ReportThe task force, with support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Industry Canada, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, just released its final report last week (June 2005).


The impetus for this consultation came out of a mix of international and national pressures. Internationally, the issue of access to research data received recognition when the OECD Committee for Scientific and Technological Policy at Ministerial Level approved a declaration in January 2004 asking the OECD to take further steps toward proposing principles and guidelines on access to publicly-funded research data. Nationally, the natural science, technical and medical research communities felt compelled to respond to the 2002 report from the National Data Archive Consultation completed on behalf of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the National Archives.


This most recent report, which contains eighteen recommendations, specifically addresses the ethics of sharing data, privacy, archiving, anonymisation, data-at-risk, data management plans and training new data librarians and archivists (recommendations 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 13 and 18, respectively). The content of these recommendations are familiar to IASSIST members since they are also concerns expressed in the IASSIST Strategic Plan.


Furthermore, the outcomes of this Canadian report are closely related to findings in a study by the International Council for Science released in December 2004, Scientific Data and Information



These reports are evidence that increasingly common ground around issues of data access and preservation is emerging across some disciplines and national boundaries.


This is not a reply to Chuck

This is not a reply to Chuck but a comment about the same report. I just attended a Dspace User Group meeting in Cambridge, UK. Cliff Lynch did the wrap-up session in which he mentioned this key report as well as a U.S one called "Long-Lived Digital Data Collections: Enabling Research and Education for the 21st Century". Science agencies are worried about large, scholarly datasets and grants are increasingly requiring a data management plan. His basic comment was that some of these datasets will be held institutionally and others in subject-based repositories with specialized access tools at national or international levels. Critical conversations between subject-based repositories and institutional repositories need to occur to see who should be responsible for what as too much critical science data are at risk. We need to figure out this science stuff.

Recommendation 18 addresses

Recommendation 18 addresses the need for trained specialists to meet the increased demand for open access to research data. Specifically, this recommendation calls upon post-secondary institutions with programmes in information studies to increase their intake of students who will be trained in the latest skills of data preservation, management and access. Yesterday (June 23), I had the opportunity to participate in a focus group that is part of the preparation by our School of Library and Information Studies for the Committee of Accreditation of the American Library Association. I used this opportunity to challenge our School to consider the implications of Recommendation 18. What coursework and experiences do they provide in this area? What research is being conducted by faculty in this area? What connections have they made with the potential employers in this field. These are hypothetical questions, of course. None of the seven Canadian universities with ALA-accredited programmes include coursework that gives students direct experience in preserving or in providing access to research data. This is a serious gap in the curriculum and course offerings of our schools of library and information studies. If the natural, medical and social sciences begin to seek new professionals with data librarian and archivist skills, where will they find them? Most likely, further examples of the accidental data librarian and data archivist will result. People will promote the skills that they hope are transferable in trying to convince employers that they can do the work. Coincidentally, I had spent time earlier in the day with administrators of a research unit on campus helping draft a job description for a full-time position requiring skills in creating data documentation using the DDI standard and in managing the data files from which research outcomes are based, that is, the analysts' versions of the data with all its transformations. They want documented versions of the data files that correspond to their published research outcomes. Writing the job description was straightforward. Their problem was envisioning where they might find someone with the skills they require without having the person undergo extensive training. Interestingly, they plan to look at students in the Computing in the Humanities graduate programme on our campus ... hoping for transferable skills.

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