Data for Librarians: C-EBLIP Journal Club, October 1, 2015

by Kristin Bogdan
Engineering Library, University of Saskatchewan

At the second meeting of the C-EBLIP Journal club for 2015-2016, held on October 1, 2015, we discussed the article:

MacMillan, D. (2014). “Data Sharing and Discovery: What Librarians Need to Know”. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 40, 541-549.

I chose this article because it is a nice overview of the key things that librarians should be familiar with about data and data management. MacMillan does a great job of synthesizing the information out there and applying it in a Canadian context, where current data management trends are not as driven by granting agencies as they are in other jurisdictions (although that could be coming). There was general agreement that the article was a useful place to start when it comes to understanding where data management can fit into library services and systems.

The flow of the discussion changed as we looked at data sharing and discovery based on the roles that librarians and information scientists fulfill in this context. We recognized that the library is a possible home for research data and that we have a role as educators, curators, and stewards of data, but we are also researchers who consume and produce data. These points of view overlap and complement each other, but also offer different ways of looking at how the library can be involved.

When it comes to our role as curators and stewards of data, we discussed the kinds of things that could make data sharing difficult. The members of the Journal Club acknowledged that there is a difference between being able to find data and being able to provide those data to patrons in a way that is usable and sustainable. Infrastructure is required for data sharing and discovery, and there are many possible ways to make this happen. Should libraries have their own repositories or take advantage of existing repositories? What are the possible down-sides of housing data in institutional repositories instead of those that are discipline-specific (highlighted by MacMillan on page 546)? How can we work together to make the most of our limited resources and provide the most comprehensive services for Canadian researchers? Resources are being collected by the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL), including a list of institutional repositories and adoptive repositories ( We talked briefly about data journals as dissemination venues, but wondered about the implications of publishers owning this content.

Issues around data privacy also came up in the discussion. Concerns were raised around security and the measures in place to make sure the individuals’ identities were protected. The Saskatchewan Research Data Centre (SKY-RDC) was identified as an example of how data can be distributed in a controlled way to protect research subjects (more about the SKY-RDC here: In terms of research data, we came to the conclusion that privacy will trump sharing in terms of sensitive data.

Our role as data producers and consumers brought up concerns about when it was appropriate to release data that was still being written about. The idea of being scooped came up as a possible deterrent to making data public. This applies to “small” data as much as to “big” data. There were also concerns about how data sets would be used after they were made public. What if they were not used in a way that was consistent with their intended purpose? Data documentation can help users understand the data and use it in a way that enriches their research but acknowledges the possible limitations of the original data set. Data citation is an important if still relatively new thing, and part of our role as stewards and creators will be to make citing data as easy and common-place as citing other materials.

In the end, I think this article was a great place to begin the discussion of data sharing and discovery in the context of libraries for the C-EBLIP Journal Club. The discussion generated more questions than answers, which made it clear that this is a topic worthy of further investigation.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.