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Telling the Story of the LTER Information Management: Seizing Opportunities

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Spring 2011

Eda Melendez-Colom (LUQ)

When I was asked by a professor at the University of Puerto Rico to teach a class of her IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeships) students, I instantly recognized both the opportunity and the responsibility for representing the information managers of the LTER Program. Besides, after years of learning, accumulating experiences and developing knowledge, one feels the need to tell the story the way we have experienced it. It has to do with the knowledge that one acquires by doing, by getting involved, by trying to achieve a goal, and even by doing those day to day boring tasks that most people want to avoid but that we face each day of our lives; an LTER information manager’s life. There is a breakthrough that one experiences after 22 years in a job in which every day, week, month and year has felt unique, and where there has been no moment of boredom.

With this as background, there should be no surprise at my dismay when I did not discover a single reference to the role of Information Management (IM) in the story told about the LTER Program in the textbook used for the IGERT EcoInformatics class (Reddy, 2009). There is no indication in this book that such a role even exists.

intertwined memories of events in the history of LTER I was given full freedom for my presentation to the students so I decided to tell my part of the story. After all, like all the LTER information managers (IMs), I am what they call in history and ethnographic studies, a primary source for many of the LTER events. When I look through the window of my mind, I recall memories of the different stages that LUQ LTER IM has gone through, all intertwined with events of the LUQ LTER program and the LTER as a whole. Figure 1 provides a summary view of some of these events.

I decided that it was only fair to the students (and to all IMs as well) that I tell some of the story of LTER myself as I perceive it, including the important role we have played in the development of informatics in the ecological world.

To that purpose, I selected a paper written by social scientists (those who study how we do our science) in collaboration with LTER information manager Karen Baker (Karasti, et. al. 2006). For this paper, the authors interviewed IMs and participated actively in the 2002 LTER IM annual meeting held in Florida. In their work, they specifically mention the role of information managers in the development of information infrastructure within the LTER program.

In contrast, in the book by Reddy, the LTER Program is rightfully presented as one of the key players in the history of ecoInformatics, but not a single reference is made to the role of information management in it. In the textbook scientists and students are mentioned as the sole managers of their data and although sharing information is mentioned as one of the characteristic of the program, information managers are not mentioned once.

In my opinion, this story is not complete if the role of information management is not included in the narration of the LTER data efforts.

My presentation (Melendez, 2011) contained tables from the book and the paper, comparing first the concepts of the fields of Informatics and Information Management, then the goals, main issues, and solutions to those issues. It is important to point out that there is a distinction between the two fields as made evident by these two sources. While informatics is a science that studies the “design, application, use and impact of information technology”, information management is the collection, distribution, organization and control of the information. The former is a science while the later can be considered a discipline.

Table 1 summarizes the various issues related to the differences in the stories presented by the two sources that I exposed to the students. The last part of the presentation was used to familiarize the student with the resources for ecoinformatics that the LTER Program has collaborated in developing, especially the Ecological Metadata Language. In that context, I presented an overview of data handling (Melendez, 2009) and the new tools developed for the production of EML packages, including the metadata online entry forms for the new LUQ LTER IM System. The students were presented with the correct protocol to follow when planning for a scientific experiment in terms of data collection and information management (Melendez, 2009).

Table 1. Summary of concepts/issues/goals presented by Karasti, et. al. 2006 and Reddy, 2009


Reddy, 2009

Karasti, et. al. 2006

Goals of Informatics/Information Management

Management and analysis of existing information, large scale ecological research, facilitate environmental research and management, provide common language to computers and humans

Data sharing, interdisciplinary collaboration, large scale-distributed  research, archive and preserve, parallel to providing access and reusing data

“Impediment”/”Challenge” in obtaining goals

Dispersed and heterogenic information make a need for synthetic analysis tools

Constant intertwined loops of data recovery, entry and archiving current information and planning for the future

Solution for the Impediments/Challenges

Create and apply computer technology, developing computer databases and algorithms, automate the access and integration of information

The LTER paradigm: site-network collaboration which places IM as a needed tool for integrating information


At the end of the class, students were particularly interested in learning more about existing data gathering standards. After conveying the LUQ LTER’s unwritten policy of allowing each investigator choose their own methodology, I pointed out to them of the growing awareness from the scientific community of the need to adopt such standards to ease and/or make possible data synthesis.

I am happy to report the success of this event, based on the involvement of the class and the conversation we engaged with at the end of my talk. Furthermore, my experiences in developing the LUQ LTER Information Management System (IMS), my long time involvement with the LTER Program and the opportunity I have had in working with other scientific communities in the development of their IMS, made it possible for me to give the students a fair account of the important role of information management in the part of the history of LTER and EcoInformatics that I witnessed. 

I want to thank K. Baker for her willingness to listen to my story and her feedback before and after I presented this class to the students and Professor Mei Yu for recognizing the importance of Information Management and inviting me to address her PhD students in this subject.

National Science Foundation. August 13, 2003. Fact Sheet: A Brief History of NSF and the Internet.

Reddy, R.A. 2009. Eco-informatics: Tools and techniques. New Delhi, SBS Publishers, 2009. 978-81-89741-99-0 Rs.995.00. (301.31Red/Eco) 078279

Karasti, H, K.S. Baker and E. Halkola. 2006. Enriching the Notion of Data Curation in E-Science: Data Managing and Information Infrastructuring in the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network Computer Supported Cooperative Work (2006) 15:321–358; DOI 10.1007/s10606-006-9023-2

Melendez-Colom, E.C. 2009. Luquillo LTER Information Management: 2009 Mid–Term Review El Verde Field Station. Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.

Melendez-Colom, E.C. 2011. A different story The USA LTER IM case: a presentation given to the University of Puerto Rico INGERT students presentationtoigert04262011.pptx