Digital Information Management: Wrap up, concluding remarks, and next steps

Wrap up and next steps
Cliff Lynch, CNI

This set of analyses are getting at a set of central hard critical problems that every institution is facing. Strategy has been fascinating – it would have been easier for each institution to get its planning grant and go off locally. But Deborah and Jeffrey have taken leadership to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts and to let the whole community learn from it. Each institution will have to develop its own local strategies, and its very helpful not to have to do that in isolation. You can learn a lot from other people’s experiences, including what are local weirdnesses to your environment and what are larger, more shared concerns.

Institutions and governance – one of the strong messages we get out of experiences is that this is a strategic institutional problem and it needs to be owned at a high level, like the provost. It’s very appropriate to be able to brief trustees or regents – it is a strategic issue, managing the research at universities. It speaks directly to institutional reputation, values, etc. There are a lot of people implicated in sorting this out – not just the library, or a simple library/IT collaboration. You’ve got legal folks, VPs of research, alumni/development offices, people concerned with reputation, image, public engagement. The question of giving more visibility to what the university is accomplishing is critical. How you come up with the right mechanisms of governance is complicated and will vary significantly from one institution to another.

Open access is very much tangled up in this whole question of managing research outputs and making them accessible. It is an important conversation to be having with faculty and (depending on how it comes out) can provide justification for building infrastructure and services. It is a lot about values – this has moved from a discussion about economics to one that is more fundamentally about values. The economic effects of open access are getting more confused – look at what’s going on in the UK with the Finch report. When we take it down to values about the accessibility of research it’s hard to argue – getting at things like global reach and the public impact of what our universities do.

This is not a simple “build it and we’re done” task – it’s a dynamic process that needs to governed and will unfold probably over decades. Different institutions will balance portfolios differently, but it’s a range of things: repositories, open access, ETDs, policies around software, institutions’ role of disseminating information at scale, etc. Electronic theses and dissertations are very much a part of this portfolio and have been strikingly slow in coming in the US. Why are they not a complete no-brainer?

Things surfacing on the frontiers of these discussions: Documenting faculty research outputs, traditionally through annual activity report, but now is a funny electronic thing that lives in six different silos that drives faculty crazy. Those are becoming more important to faculty as time goes on. We are seeing emergence of a number of systems trying to rationalize this (Vivo being one of many), but the state of the art of interoperability is dismal. Next step from that is alternative metrics, to get at quantifying research impact (very dangerous activity but many institutions seem determined to indulge in), and to help us allocate attention in a world where we’re all drowning. The rate of publication is so high that no matter how finely you niche your work you can’t keep up.

Public engagement will be more important over time – why is this research important, not only to the three people who understand it, but to the people who pay for it? Institutions will be increasingly challenged to help their faculty speak to that.

Research data management was a major part of the discussion here. It’s one of the great institutional challenges as research becomes more data intensive. We’ve seen funders mandate data management and sharing plans. Right now we are at a desperate juncture – we’re a couple of years into this but have almost no idea of what the impact is. The data from Princeton is about the only example of analysis that’s been done. We know very little of what’s going into proposals, which proposals are being funded, the extent to which faculty make good on the plans, etc. The funding agencies themselves don’t seem to be doing any consistent analyses here – funding agencies often don’t know how to do things themselves but wait for someone to show up and propose a grant. Sooner or later (hopefully later), someone will ask a question about what compliance we’re getting on this and if the answers are bad we’ll see a great deal of hysterical activity. We need to get some sense of what’s happening out there. We probably need to have conversations of risk management and research in ways we aren’t doing now – part is about research data, part is about physical things that come out of research (problems with hurricanes are a good example). Not just an IT problem – you put a lot of research at risk with continuity of things like freezers. How is the responsibility for research data distributed – a policy discussion that we’d all like to avoid but is strategic. The other side is if we do intelligent data sharing, can we really improve scientific and scholarly productivity? We’d like to believe that, but we need to try and learn everything we can about the real effects of being successful at research data management.

Concluding Remarks:
Tracey Futhey, VP of IT and CIO at Duke

It was quite telling when David talked about how CIO and Records Management functions hadn’t met – this is an activity that we’re pursuing on both IT and Library tracks, it’s something we have do together.

The two approaches from Duke and Dartmouth had a benefit of doubling the learning by combining together. Two very different governance structures, both with commitment from top and both IT and Library participation, but different participation beyond that. Duke was more focused on academics, while Dartmouth was more academic in nature. Essential for governance structure and membership reflect the goals of the institution.

We may set the plan, but let’s make sure strategies don’t get stagnant – incorporate emergent needs.

It was pretty clear that leveraging faculty motivation is key – helping their work to be consumed by the broadest possible audience, and keeping it simple for them. Set default for desired outcome, rather than relying on people for proactive input.

How can we bring collaborative activities together around the edges of this domain?

These aren’t just library and IT issues, but institutional issues.

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