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Building a Community of Practice for Research Data Services

By Mayu Ishida

In March 2014, I started working as the research services librarian at the University of Manitoba in Canada. I am responsible for facilitating library services in scholarly communication, which includes implementing research data services. I am excited to engage in this initiative as Canada’s Tri-Agencies, a major source of research funding, are expected to require a data management plan in grant proposals as early as fall 2015. In anticipation of the new requirement, the University of Manitoba Libraries (UML) has started to implement research data services to assist researchers with their data management plans and help them prepare to share their data.

The first thing I needed to learn in my position was how to juggle the responsibility of building momentum for new library services with my other responsibilities. While facilitating the implementation of research data services, I am administering the open access authors’ fund, overseeing the institutional repository, and promoting these resources to faculty and students. Managing multiple responsibilities seems the norm in academic librarianship. I have heard about (and admire) subject librarians who offer consultation services on data management plans in addition to their liaison, reference, and instruction tasks. On the other hand, I have heard about academic libraries that dedicate a team to research data services. Staff assignment to research data services at academic libraries seems to depend on the level of research activity on campus and the maturity of research data services.

One thing has become clear: to start research data services, I need allies and collaborators. At the UML, I am fortunate to have collaborators from many library units who are enthusiastic about the implementation of research data services. Allies at other offices on campus are also undertaking initiatives relevant to the library’s research data services (e.g., piloting a secure file sharing system, developing institution-wide guidelines for data storage and retention). I need to look beyond my library and institution, though, for knowledge of how to actually implement research data services, and the opportunity to speak with professionals who have done or are doing the work.

I found such support through the CLIR/DLF E-Research Peer Networking and Mentoring Group (ERPNMG), which began in March and concludes this month. ERPNMG aims to build a sustainable, mutually supportive, inter-institutional community of professionals engaged in research data services. UML joined ERPNMG to learn from other academic libraries that are developing research data services. The program, attended by staff from eight academic libraries in the United States and Canada, offers a series of webinars, practical activities, and virtual discussions that enable participants to learn from each other and encourage their institutions to evaluate and further develop their research data services.

ERPNMG gave me a valuable opportunity to share experience and ideas with my peers about research data services. For example, at UML we were planning to assess data management needs on campus. An ERPNMG peer from the University of Arizona Libraries shared with us their survey instrument, which informed our survey design, and one of the ERPNMG webinars explored the importance of assessment in research data services. We also learned from the ERPNMG peers in other areas, such as data management training, consulting on data management plans, and promoting research data services to faculty and students.

I appreciate the chance to hear about and reflect on the experiences of the ERPNMG peers who are ahead in implementing and refining research data services. At UML, we piloted a curriculum for data management training and are planning a pilot of a data repository system. While these pilots will inform our implementation of research data services, it will take another 12 months or longer to convert our pilot experiences into fully formed library services. Based on the experiences of the ERPNMG peers, I believe we are on the right track, and it has been great to learn from these peers.

As the ERPNMG program wraps up this month, the participating institutions have been contemplating what should come next for this emerging community of practice. How can we keep the momentum going and continue to foster support and learning among professionals working in research data services?

These questions will be discussed at the upcoming DLF Forum 2014 in a panel session titled “Building a Community of Practice for Research Data Services.” I am organizing the panel session with librarians from three ERPNMG-peer institutions – Chris Kollen (University of Arizona), Sarah Williams (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), and Kathleen Fear (University of Rochester) – and two of the CLIR/DLF postdoctoral fellows – Inna Kouper (Indiana University) and Kendal Roark (University of Alberta). In this panel, the library representatives will share their successes and the challenges of implementing research data services, and how the ERPNMG experience informed the implementation, while the CLIR/DLF fellows will discuss their role in supporting and observing the community of practice through ERPNMG.

Together, we will consider the next steps for ERPNMG, with input from the audience at the panel session. How can we continue to support and learn from each other after the formal program ends? Is there any chance to collaborate among the ERPNMG-peer institutions and involve other institutions? (This panel session is an example of such a collaborative project.) How can this community of practice learn from and benefit other communities of practice in research data services? We would love to hear your thoughts on these questions. If you are coming to DLF Forum 2014, please join our conversation!

Mayu Ishida is research services librarian at the University of Manitoba.

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