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Dean’s Update: Challenges of Research Data Discovery and Accessibility 

February 7, 2019

This issue of In Circulation offers a few insights into recent ways the Libraries is tackling challenges to discover and access research data.  

Why should that even matter? Will managing Drexel’s research output bring funding to the University?   Will simplifying efforts to identify and locate Drexel-generated research publications and the data behind their reported findings save the University from non-compliance penalties or the costs of defending research integrity? Surely one can find the needed evidence to establish research reputation and position in competitive rankings by hitting the right button somewhere that will generate the winning analytics—or so I’ve heard.   

Data as an institution’s asset for making strategic decisions and improving performance has come of age. A Google search [from my profiled computer] returned nearly 30 million hits in less than a minute for my inquiry to find ideas about “value proposition for data management.” There’s a growing business in support for corporations to utilize data—for what the leading analytics company, SAS, envisions “to make better decisions, grounded in trusted data and assisted by the power and scale of... analytics.” As the company advises, “preparing data for analytics is full of challenges... most data scientists spend 50 to 80 percent of their model development time on data preparation tasks.”

What does all this have to do with an academic researcher’s work to disseminate new knowledge? Several faculty colleagues have expressed disinterest in being discovered or surprise if anyone else might use the data their research generates.  

Research output distinguishes research universities. Distinction is dependent on resources to conduct research and evidence of productivity. Research output and its evidence track these inputs and outputs.   Federal funding mandates increasingly require scholars share their publications and data for others to use to further new research. Citations to publications, conference presentations and data sets are becoming expected measures of an institution’s research output as evidence of impact through use by others.

Observations about requirements to use data in the corporate world transfer to the academic world—it is our currency in the business of knowledge generation.

SAS and others recognize the work needed to address the value proposition of data management: “Best practices that help you access, cleanse, transform and shape your raw data for any analytic purpose. With a trusted data quality foundation and analytics-ready data, you can gain deeper insights, embed that knowledge into models, share new discoveries and automate decision-making processes to build a data-driven business.”

Treating research output as an institutional asset is coming of age as well, and the Drexel Libraries is strengthening and applying the expertise of its staff of librarians, archivists, records managers, and information system specialists to offer service support and tools to prepare and discover Drexel-generated research output. This strategic focus around building effective integrated research output management aims to strengthen the University’s connections to scholarship and its ability to attract funding, raise reputation and further distinguish itself among research universities.  

Enjoy reading the Libraries’ human dimensions in fostering research data management. Four articles this month highlight the Libraries staff and their work—what a new data outreach librarian does; how a team is partnering with faculty and a multi-national vendor to develop a research service platform; ways a librarian applies her deep understanding of scholarly publishing and citation analysis to uncover Drexel’s research distinctions; and how our communications manager inspires interest in data and its management among students through participation in the upcoming Love Data Week celebration.  

Happy February—believe the sleepy groundhog that spring is less than 6 weeks away!

Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries