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Information Management, Data Repositories, and Data Curation

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Issue: 
Spring 2011

Karen Baker (PAL, CCE)

Over the last year, opportunities to speak about my experiences in information management have prompted me to consider information management in relation to data curation and data repository efforts.

I attended a Digital Curation Conference in Washington in 2007 and presented an overview of information management within the LTER. I would venture to say one reason it won best paper is because of the uniqueness of the LTER approach and set of experiences with ‘data curation’. After spending a decade focusing on the concept of digital libraries, the library community has turned to focus on becoming professional digital data curators. After these meetings, I find the term ‘data curation’ has entered my vocabulary big time. I began to mull over why LTER information managers do not describe themselves as data curators.

When asked to speak at the Science and Engineering Academic Library (SEAL) California Academic and Research Libraries (CARL) at their Pomona meeting in October 2010, I partnered with a librarian who had been learning from the reorientation of the national library community over the last few years about data curation. My talk, titled ‘Information Management in the Wild: A Tale of Local Infrastructuring’ introduced the idea of data types as well as of data repository types. Building upon the National Science Board definition in 2005 of three repository types (research, resource, and archive), Lynn Yarmey and I had suggested the concept of a ‘web of repositories’ at the DCC in Scotland in 2008. After the DCC and SEAL meetings, I find the term ‘data repository’ occupying a new place in my vocabulary. I began to wonder why information managers who have well-established data collections did not describe themselves as managers of data repositories.

Last week I was invited to speak to a graduate class at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in the department of Education and Library Science. Having created a two quarter graduate sequence titled “Data, Data Practices, and Data Curation”, Christine Borgman begins her materials with a cautionary note from Jeff Rothenberg: “Digital information lasts forever or five years, whichever comes first”. The first quarter of the sequence provides a foundation in data practices and services across the disciplines, and the second quarter builds on this foundation to provide practical experience in data curation. My presentation was part of the ‘practical experience’ section of the class. And it started me thinking about what type of interfaces and infrastructure will be bringing together the worlds of information management, data repositories, and library data curation.

If the local or site-based information management perspective is to be taken into account in the broader arena of scientific infrastructure building, based upon our experience, we site-level information managers are in a good position to speak about data curation and data repositories. We are also in a strong position to discuss design work and collaborative efforts together with network activities and data work processes. As echoed in another article in this issue by Eda Melendez-Colom, the voice of information management is often missing in the stories of data curation and of informatics. Perhaps all those associated with the LTER community can find time and opportunities to speak about the LTER site-based network model configuration in terms of information management. New efforts in larger scientific arenas dealing with scientific data and infrastructure building will benefit if we are able to convey our experiences with data work in practice together with the implications of these experiences.