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Fall 2011

In this issue of Databits, we see results from group and individual efforts to better serve the LTER Network, both from a technological and a socio-technical perspective. Noting that “one would be hard-pressed this fall to find an idle information manager,” IMC Co-Chairs Don Henshaw and Margaret O’Brien provide a detailed synopsis of the activities that have taken place since our last issue. Among the few activities Don and Margaret don’t explicitly mention are those of Databits co-editors Richard Cary and Theresa Valentine, whom I have the privilege of thanking for their help in editing, formatting and even contributing to this volume. I am also very grateful to everyone who contributed content.

Each article either directly addresses network level projects or demonstrates tools that would be useful in increasing connectivity both within and across sites. Two major gatherings of information managers prompted reports – the Environmental Information Manager’s Conference (EIMC), in Santa Barbara, CA, and the SensorNIS Conference at Hubbard Brook, in New Hampshire. In addition, reports from smaller group efforts, including those focused on the Drupal Environmental Information Management System (DEIMS), LTERMapS, and the Metabase, demonstrate the progress these groups made by using common frameworks to increase their technical resource base and more transparently illustrate the linkages between research and data. At individual sites, we are introduced to resources other sites can leverage to improve the connectivity of their own data, including a process to smoothly retrieve national climate and streamflow data, the ability to contextualize photos with spatial information, and the means to generate and use web services to streamline the population of ClimDB and HydroDB.

This issue also provides two outside commentaries from colleagues who have a stake in the accessibility of the LTER Network. Prompted by his attendance of the EIMC, Dr. Irbis Gallegos, of University of Texas, El Paso’s CyberSHARE Center, reflects on the overlap between his research and that of the LTER information management community. Gallegos discovers great potential for multi-disciplinary improvements in the management of ecological data through collaborations that extend beyond the LTER Network. Dr. Ted Gragson, Coweeta’s Lead Principal Investigator, reflects on the importance of integrating site science and information management, noting that individuals, not technologies, are the most important drivers of integration and accessibility in a network such as ours.

As we continue conversations about what kind of network the LTER is and how it functions, it may be useful to examine a variety of analogical models. One excellent approach lies in the models presented by Albert Barábasi’s book, Linked: the new science of networks. In it, Barábasi describes “scale-free networks” in which “hubs” naturally emerge to efficiently link the many nodes that develop in a context of self-organizing complexity. Since information managers frequently are asked to use many kinds of technology across a variety of domains and sites, we have the opportunity to act as at least one kind of hub to connect the many nodes of LTER. If the analogy proves applicable, then the articles here suggest a measure of success in doing that job well.

-- John F. Chamblee, CWT IM, Fall 2011 Databits Co-Editor