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2010 IMC Annual Meeting, Kellogg Biological Station

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Fall 2010

Margaret O'Brien (SBC) and Don Henshaw (AND)

The 2010 Information Management Committee (IMC) annual meeting was held September 21-24 at the Kellogg Biological Station (KBS). The meeting was well attended with representatives from all 26 sites; about one-third of the sites sent two or more people and the LNO sent several members. In the three-year rotation that also includes meetings in conjunction with the LTER All-Scientist Meeting and the Environmental Information Management Conference (EIMC), this annual meeting affords the IMC an opportunity to meet alone and concentrate on advancing internal working group activities. Plenary sessions were highlighted by visits with Phil Robertson (KBS/LTER Chair), and a videoteleconference with NSF officers Todd Crowl, Nancy Huntly, and Peter McCartney.

The meeting focused on coordination of Site Information Manager (SIM) activities with the development of the Network Information System (NIS). Considerable breakout group time was devoted to three major topics: IMC governance, EML dataset practices and quality, and redesign of network databases and associated web services. Development of the NIS places new demands on IMC members as the expectation for data synthesis and integration is high. Major topics were selected with goals to

  1. Clearly describe the role and structure of the IMC and formalize the decision-making process directing our activities
  2. Develop quality metrics for EML metadata and data
  3. Assure network databases are designed to be useful to and content easily maintained by sites.

Other topics addressed were GIS and the LTERMapS project, the LTER controlled vocabulary, the Units registry, Drupal as an IM development framework, and relational data models for metadata. Strong interest from IMC members led organizers to schedule an optional third half-day to accommodate these working group activities. Following is a summary of the progress of each of these groups.

IMC Governance:

This work group has recommended adoption of a document structure called “Terms of Reference” (ToR) for the IMC and its working groups to describe their membership and activities. ToRs are similar to by-laws, but use a bottom-up approach and are somewhat more informal. At the meeting, the Governance working group assembled feedback on composition and format for the ToR from all IMC members, and began a draft ToR document for the IMC which will be available for comment in early December. Once adopted, active IMC working groups will create their own ToRs in the following months. The IMC also approved IMExec as the body which will review and endorse proposals on their behalf before submission to LNO for the coming year for NIS Production Workshops, Training, IM release time, and IM travel. IMExec has begun this process with the first round of proposals (which were due November 1). This review process will be evaluated by the IMC at their meeting in September 2011. The Governance working group is chaired by Karen Baker (CCE/PAL), Eda Melendez-Colom (LUQ) and Nicole Kaplan (SGS). (See article this issue.)

EML Best Practices and Congruency Checker:

The original EML Best Practices is undergoing revision to reflect changes in EML and to assure consistency of approach in writing EML across the network. The EML Congruency Checker will be developed in 2011 to provide feedback on completeness and usability of EML datasets submitted to the NIS. Meeting breakout time was used to evaluate the draft EML Best Practices document and consider requirements for the EML Congruency Checker. The draft has been available for comment since September 1 and the comment period ends January 15. Work on the congruency checker is expected to be completed during the first half of 2011, as part of the NIS Data Management Suite. The EML Best Practices and Congruency Checker groups are chaired by Margaret O’Brien (SBC).

Network database redesign and web services:

Network databases such as personnel, the all-site bibliography and site descriptions (SiteDB) are typically maintained secondarily by LTER sites and are not well integrated with site information systems. As the NIS is developed, sites will want to make use of network database content for their local uses, e.g., directly use the network personnel list for site purposes or synchronize site publications with the all-site bibliography. This group has two major tasks: to define use cases for how a site might use Network databases, and to recommend web services mechanisms for accessing information or synchronizing with Network databases. Meeting breakout sessions were used to consider how these network databases could be redesigned to best accommodate both site and network uses. This group has decided to focus early efforts on the personnelDB and identified the need for a product-oriented workshop to further consider web services development. The combined working group is chaired by Mason Kortz CCE/PAL).


The GIS working group met during a breakout session and discussed several topics including its own governance, site training needs, and feedback to the Strategic and Implementation Plan (SIP) on GIS strategies for LTER sites. A GIS survey was prepared and has subsequently been sent to all sites. Several ideas for training were identified and a training proposal is under consideration. Adam Skibbe (KNZ) will be the new chair of this working group replacing Theresa Valentine (AND). A sub-group of the GIS working group, LTERMapS, intends to provide a consistent interactive mapping interface for LTER site information through an Internet mapping application which allows users to visualize, search, download, and explore site information. The project used the last day of the meeting to plan a November EML-GIS workshop at the Andrews to develop a product-oriented proposal for LTERMapS phase 2 implementation. Three subgroups were formed:  Templates, Front-end and Back-end in planning for the implementation. Theresa Valentine is the lead contact for the LTERMapS group.

Controlled vocabulary:

The working group considered next steps to build on the list of 650 terms based on widely-used LTER EML keywords with the goal to include at least one LTER keyword in each EML file. A key next step is to consider the “vocabulary management plan” including its governance and procedures for modification. Polytaxonomies, e.g., a series of taxonomies (habitat, LTER core areas) will be developed. Future tools for ingestion of keywords into EML and for searching databases will be considered. A product-oriented workshop proposal is planned for 2011.

Units Registry

This group reported on the success implementing the Unit Registry at sites during the past year (with ASM funding), including deployment at LNO, and implementation at four sites. As of this writing, the Registry has been populated with units from 18 sites.  Their current activities include outreach and training on the registry via VTC and site-site visits, and further adaptation of the Best Practices for Units document to include discussion of non-compliant units, abbreviations and definitions, assigning quantities, and the unit vetting process. The group will also consider how the Unit Registry may inform development of standardized attributes. This group is chaired by Mason Kortz (CCE/PAL) and Linda Powell (FCE). (See article this issue.)

Drupal Environmental Information Management System (DEIMS):

Six LTER sites, one OBFS site, and NBII are collaborating to develop a set of applications in Drupal which will provide the functionality for a basic research site/field station information website (including, personnel, publications, research sites, datasets and metadata). Currently the main foci are an EML module consisting of a simple metadata editor which maintains metadata in Drupal and produces EML documents, and a query application which allows users to retrieve data subsets. The DEIMS group met at KBS to finalize the agenda of their training workshop, to demonstrate some new interfaces, and to share progress populating backend systems at individual sites. Their upcoming tasks include implementing web services for the Units Registry, with a similar plan in mind for LTER Keywords as these develop. The LTER sites working on this project include LUQ, SEV, ARC, PIE, NTL and VCR.

Relational data model comparison.

Relational data models for maintaining site metadata are often a key component of site information systems and exist in varying schema structures throughout the network. Some site IM systems have proven agile enough that their data models evolve with changing needs, while other sites are exploring possible improvements or are planning to adopt a model from another site. As part of their adaptation process, a comparison of existing data models was constructed by M. Gastil-Buhl (MCR) and presented as survey results in a poster and discussion. At the time of the meeting, three examples of mature production models which are part of a larger IM System were presented: the GCE Metabase, the AND Metadata Database, and the CCE/PAL DataZoo. These models continue to undergo improvements, and their content is used to provide services such as web page display and EML generation. A fourth model using the Drupal Content management system is in development (DIEMS) by a group of six sites. The comparison has continued since the meeting with input from additional sites. The benefits of this comparison are 2-fold: it allows sites to understand the most successful features of existing systems as they consider adapting one of the models, and secondly, allows sites to compare their systems' features to other site systems within the network.

Clearly, the IMC has made significant progress on its 2010 projects, and is well placed for work in 2011. We anticipate that in the coming year, we will see a streamlined and accessible Network personnel database and significant development on a keyword dictionary, which will allow us to more efficiently manage diverse tasks and data contributions. We anticipate that reports describing quality and usabililty of datasets will highlight the areas where our IM systems are in need of upgrade, and help to provide justification for additional funding supplements. IM-Exec appreciates the strong interest and dedication of the entire IMC at this year's meeting.