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University research is producing a tremendous flood of digital content, and faculty are just treading water in managing it. That’s the essence of keynote speeches given at the ECURE 2005 conference in February and March at Arizona State University.
“Expectations regarding public access to research and research results, particularly those paid for by public funds, are growing week by week,” said Clifford Lynch, director of the Coalition for Networked Information. CNI is a non-profit consortium of universities and organizations based in Washington, D.C. that facilitates development of Internet technologies to improve research and higher education in the United States and around the world.
Computer-assisted activities such as visualization now are “every bit as important and as significant as traditional monographs and journal articles,” Lynch said. The practice of stewardship of information now involves computation, simulation, large-scale data collection and observational data sets. This is true in many fields, not just the sciences, he said. The development of information systems that enable and sustain long-term access is just beginning.
Sarah M. Pritchard, University Librarian for the University of California, Santa Barbara, is principal investigator for a study of data-intensive research projects. She presented a survey of UCSB researchers funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Results from the 2004 survey demonstrate there is great variability across UCSB with regard to retention methods. Few researchers made use of metadata or understood its value. Archiving was often perceived as synonymous with backup of data. Faculty are not being rewarded for creating and implementing retention solutions.
If a university is to successfully provide centralized retention, archiving standards would have to include supporting the software faculty use that has been developed for the particular requirements of their academic disciplines. A mix of “innovative and homegrown patchwork off the shelf” systems built for research data are in use at UCSB. These systems are growing very fast, Pritchard said. The expense of changing, centralizing, and coordinating them is “so frightening that it never happens.” Questions also arise regarding selection for retention and the storage and server requirements for support of “enormous data sets.”
Pritchard said a clearinghouse for archival consulting and information on curation of digital data could help faculty find resources, and allow researchers from different disciplines to share what works for them. This would be a step toward developing institution-wide decisions about what data to retain and make available. Universities may one day have ‘electronic archivist” as a standard staff position at their libraries or research departments
“We are moving from a time when digital objects will be the exception, to a time when non-digital objects will be the exception. We need to get serious as institutions about these questions,” Lynch said.
Conference proceedings will be made available later this spring at the ECURE Web site, (www.asu.edu/ecure). The ECURE conference on digital resources and electronic records for higher education is hosted annually by Arizona State University. Additional sponsorship for the conference has been provided by CNI and Proquest Information and Learning.