Q&A with Deb Morley, Director of Data & Digital Stewardship

Q&A with Deb Morley, Director of Data & Digital Stewardship
Sarah Rich
October 3, 2016

Deb MorleyIn March this year, the Libraries launched the Data and Digital Stewardship division. I interviewed the director of this new division, Deb Morley, on what this program is all about and how it is taking Drexel University Libraries into the future.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your background.

Most of my career has been in academic librarianship and academic technology. Over the years I’ve sought out challenging positions that bring these two fields together. The current role that I’m in here at Drexel University Libraries as the director of Data and Digital Stewardship is really a nice combination of the two. It also allows me to utilize a lot of the knowledge and skills I have developed and the experiences I’ve had over the years.

Q: What is Data and Digital Stewardship? What does this new division do?

Data and Digital Stewardship encompasses all activities related to the care and management of data and digital objects over time. What makes the work of the new division unique is that the content that the division is focused on goes beyond the traditional library subscription resources like electronic journals, databases and e-books. The data and digital assets are materials that have been created here at Drexel as output from scholarship. This includes Drexel theses and dissertations in their electronic formats, articles written by Drexel researchers that are made available in our institutional repository and the data that has been created through Drexel research projects. The new division helps to identify, describe, make accessible and preserve over time these digital assets of the University. The division also plays a role in helping researchers steward their data, helping them develop data management plans and providing guidance on where their research needs to reside long-term to be compliant with various publisher and funding agency mandates.

Q: This is a new division; how did the existing staff and departments merge into this new program?

There are three existing departments that were brought together under the new umbrella of Data and Digital Stewardship: Metadata Services, Discovery Systems and the University Archives. Each of those departments has some involvement with stewarding data and digital assets. The Metadata Services department is involved in describing and cataloging data and digital objects, similar to their role with describing books and other tangible materials. Discovery Systems supports the technical infrastructure for discovery of and access to the collections and materials, in both digital and tangible formats. And the University Archives has a role in stewarding the digital assets of the University that have historical value. The division’s Management Team and I continue to focus on ways to coalesce these groups to leverage the skills and talents of the staff to support the work of the new division. Data and Digital Stewardship is a cross-departmental, cross-divisional effort that ultimately involves many of the roles in the library.

Q: How did Drexel decide to create this new program? Why now? Do other university libraries have similar programs?

Drexel has been very forward-thinking in this area. A lot of libraries have been talking about the management of research data for a while, but I think Drexel University Libraries is at the forefront of saying, “Okay, this isn’t just another committee or another working group – we’re really doing this. We’re really taking ownership of what it means to manage research data to help the university think about its digital collections and digital assets.”

Q: What has it been like to be the inaugural director of this program?

It has been great. The staff of the Drexel University Libraries is one of the organization’s strengths, which I very much appreciate. When you’re part of something new, like forming a new division, you don’t have a defined blueprint of how it has been done or even what it is. Coming in new, you really get to help create it and form it. That’s something that I’ve been doing in conjunction with the Libraries' Strategic Leadership Group.

Q: How does the demand for such a program express the changing nature of the library?

These days, researchers have more sharing requirements than they had before. We’re moving into a different time where many of the government agencies that are funding research are requiring that researchers be more open with their research findings and research data. That’s a new twist. And that really is a role where the libraries can step in and help. Because in order to make that data shareable, it’s not just about putting them up on a website. It’s about describing them in such a way that years later, the data can be discovered and understood. Providing descriptions of resources is something that libraries have been doing for years – it’s just that instead of cataloging and describing a book, we’re describing a data set or other scholarly output.

Q: What kinds of data and systems are unique to Drexel?

What comes immediately to mind are the Drexel interdisciplinary research signatures that produce unique outputs, including digital images, 3D digital objects, oral histories and computational data. The Drexel Areas of Research Excellence (DARE) projects, for instance, are forming different Drexel research groups or new centers. Many of these will likely depend on uncommon research data that will challenge faculty to manage and share data output.

Q: How can students engage with this new program?

With this program, the Libraries expands its role in helping people find information resources. In the same way that libraries have connected people to books and journals, our librarians connect people with existing data. Liaison Librarians assist students with finding sources for data they are seeking to use in their research. The Data Visualization Zone, located in W.W. Hagerty Library was opened in January to support student exploration of data retrieval and visualization and the principles of geographic information systems (GIS) for working with spatial data. The Libraries offers instruction in research data management to students who are involved in research. Also, student theses, dissertations and some capstone projects can be submitted to the Libraries in digital format for inclusion in iDEA, the institutional repository.

Q: How do you see this program taking Drexel into the future?

Data and Digital Stewardship is a program that is both meeting emerging needs in Drexel’s research community, and defining a new role for the Libraries. The program directly supports the growing ethos of open science through the management of research data. Sharing research output will raise the reputation and relevance of Drexel research worldwide.