Walking the (Research Data Management) Talk

by Marjorie Mitchell
Librarian, Learning and Research Services
UBC Okanagan Library

Librarians helping researchers to create data management plans, developing usable file management systems (including file naming conventions), preparing the data for submission into repositories and working through the mysteries of subject-specific metadata schemes are at the forefront of the data sharing movement. All this work leads to research that is more reproducible, more rigorous, has fewer errors, and more frequently cited (Wicherts, 2011) than research that isn’t shared. In addition to those benefits, shared data leads to increased opportunities for collaboration and, potentially, economic benefits (Johnson, 2016). However, are we doing what we are asking our researchers to do and ultimately making our research data available and open for reanalysis and reuse? Are we walking the talk? Or is this the case of the carpenter’s house (unfinished) and the mechanic’s car (needing repair)?

When I’m speaking of data I use Eisner and Vasgird’s description of data as “a collection of facts, measurements or observations used to make inferences about the world we live in” (n.d.) because the research done by librarians consists of wide varieties of data: numerical, textual, photographic images, hand drawn maps, or diagrams created by study participants. Almost all have the potential to be shared openly and to act as a springboard for further research, subject to appropriate ethical considerations.

I started searching to see what data I could find from Canadian librarian researchers in repositories. I have not finished my search, but my early results show some interesting things. To date, this has not been a rigorous study, but more of a curious, pre-research “let’s see what’s out there” browse, and therefore must not be misconstrued as the basis for conclusions. I briefly looked internationally for a few studies and found a wider variety of topics with available datasets than I had found in Canadian repositories, which was what I expected to find.

Two things jumped out at me right away. First, when data is available, it is either from large, national or multi-institutional studies, or it is from studies that have been repeated over time, such as LibQUAL+®. Far fewer institution-specific or single researcher/research team datasets are “available.” Some of those have “request access” restrictions, meaning it may be possible to access the data with permission from the creator, but that is not guaranteed. The second thing I noticed was how difficult it is locate these datasets. Although there is a movement to assign unique and persistent identifiers to datasets, this has not, as yet, translated into a search engine that can comprehensively search for datasets.

I am happy to see a steady increase in the amount of librarian-generated research data being made available. Librarian-generated research is not alone in this trend. It is happening across the disciplines. While little library research is externally funded, it is worth noting some funders are requiring data management plans with the goal of data sharing. Some scholarly journals, particularly in the sciences, have strong policies about data sharing. Each change, minor or major, moves us more toward data that is shared as a matter of course, rather than data shared only reluctantly.

If this all sounds like “just another thing to do” or maybe “I don’t have the skills or interest to do this,” consider research data sharing as an opportunity to partner with another librarian who has those skills but perhaps lacks the research skills you have. Research partners and teams can allow people to contribute their best skills rather than struggling to compensate for their weaknesses throughout the process.

Finally, have a look at the data that is out there just waiting to be reused. Cite it, add to it (if allowed), and share your new results. I am confident this will add greater context to your research and highlight subtleties and nuances that might have remained invisible otherwise.


Eisner, R., & Vasgird, D. (n.d.) Foundation Text. In RCR Data Acquisition and Management. Retrieved from http://ori.hhs.gov/education/products/columbia_wbt/rcr_data/foundation/index.html

Johnson, B. (2016). Open Data: Delivering the Benefits. Presentation, London, UK.

Wicherts, J. M., Bakker, M., & Molenaar, D. (2011). Willingness to Share Research Data Is Related to the Strength of the Evidence and the Quality of Reporting of Statistical Results. PLoS ONE, 6(11). doi:hOp://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0026828

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.