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A Roadmap for Data Services

By Rachel Frick

Last week I had the good fortune to attend the 8th annual International Data Curation Conference—the conference for anyone working in the field of data curation, whether practitioner, educator, or researcher. IDCC brings together those who create and manage data and information, those who use it, and those who research and teach about curation processes.

This year, the program was exceptionally strong, with keynotes by Ewan Birney of the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute and Herbert Van de Sompel of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. There was also a presentation by Paul Miller about data stories and the business world that was interesting because it discussed how scale is an important dimension of data and what one can learn from it. Another great presentation was from Kaitlin Thaney of Digital Science; she discussed tools and services that aim to make research in the sciences more efficient. The complete program, along with some videos and slides, are available on the IDCC website. Conference papers are also available.

One session stood out more for the nature of the conversation than what was said. It was a town hall style discussion titled “What is a Data Scientist?” A panel of young professionals discussed what they were doing, how they got there, and what they did or did not do in library school to prepare themselves for their roles. There was probably too much time spent discussing job titles. William Kilbride of the Digital Preservation Coalition observed that it was much more important to be clear in communicating what the community does than what we call ourselves. It was evident from the conversation that we are in a transition period, so it seems premature to assign labels to jobs and stake out our professional domains and their responsibilities. Defining boundaries now will only create artificial barriers.

The exchanges brought to mind a presentation at the mid-winter meeting of the CLIR Data Curation Postdoctoral Fellows. Natsuko Nicholls, Fe Sferdean, Katherine Akers, Vessela Ensberg, and Inna Kouper discussed their experiences and how they are contributing to a “roadmap to data services.” Why a roadmap? They reasoned that a roadmap was a good analogy, as they are striving to match institutional goals (destinations) with actions and solutions (milestones and paths), to reach a consensus and coordinate developments, and to connect to other “travelers.”

I believe that connecting to other travelers is key in this transition period. We need to be open to serendipity and opportunity, to learn from others, and to create an open broad community of professionals that share the same goal—namely, to develop and support data services that build upon researchers’ needs and facilitate preservation and innovation.

The IDCC conference is a great way to meet fellow travelers. Next year it will be hosted by the California Digital Library in California. The dates have yet to be announced, so stay tuned. In the meantime, check out Science OnlineSXSWi, and the Strata Conference for opportunities to find new colleagues and ideas for innovation and collaboration.

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