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Research data: let the flowers grow!

Fran Berman: let the flowers grow!

From March 18-20 I joined with my colleague @jprombouts the launch event of the research data alliance. Obviously much discussion took place on governance issues. However, I also learned some stuff in Goteborg, and took a few ideas back home.

The launch was kicked off by Neelie Kroes, where she put the necessity to form this alliance forward: the EU is supporting open science, and wants to make science work better for all of us, with ownership and cooperation of scientists themselves. Another interesting contribution came from Peter Fox (Tetherless World constellation / Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute). He gave us five considerations:

  1. Work as you’ve succeeded > what would it all look like 10 years from now?
  2. It is not <just> about data
  3. It is about the alliance
  4. Be aware of vertical integration opportunity and needs
  5. The culture around data has to change

Peter told the RDA to be ready, be dynamic, be active, and urged us to bring together Head, Heart and Gut. It is difficult to avoid that I am only blogging quotes that have already been sent around via twitter! I liked e.g. Francine Berman’s remark that it is not just your data, it is other people’s data as well.

Together with Ross Wilkinson and John Wood she forms the RDA Council (to be expanded), where they represent the original founding from US, Australia and Europe. The RDA is being formed, or perhaps a better word would be moulded, by its members into the right shape. Two working groups have been approved so far, i.e., on data type registries and pid information types. The Council emphasized that RDA is about connecting data, people and disciplines. Of course the world consists of more than Australia, US and Europe, so there were also presentations about progress made in the field of research data from Canada, India, South Africa and China.

Upon arrival in Goteborg, we saw these very nice trees and benches.

We could digest real interesting content at the start of the second day. First we had Manfred Laubichler from Arizona State University telling us about the digital HPS (History and Philosophy of Science), He showed us that it is indeed not only about data, but also about the methods you need to deploy the data. Laubichler gave us an example from the Evolutionary population ecology. We saw that researcher Bradshaw changed his mind when comparing his statement in 1948 with the one in 1965. To understand why that happened you need to understand the scientific context of the whole field. So he concluded that these computational approaches require cyberinfrastructure, open and transparent (big) data and linkable repositories. Philip Bourne (from UCSD, and later in the same week also present at Force 11), taught us some lessons:

  1. It is all about trust (“trust in the data is perhaps our biggest achievement”), so listen to your community & engage them in every part of the process
  2. Data quality begats trust (support for versioning hence the copy of record, all versions accessible)
  3. It is all about people (curators are the unsung heroes)
  4. It is NOT all about institutions. No data standards body has directly influenced PDB, the protein databank
  5. It is about Openness. PDB should be more transparent about data usage .

Further interesting stuff from Bourne was that the thought that data are created are equal must end, that we need to understand how data are used, that reductionism is not a dirty word, that we should do more with the long tail, and should stop looking at funding agencies. And to conclude: “Think about the questions we wish to answer rather than simply being able to retrieve the data.”

The remainder of the launch meeting was perhaps really what is all about – established and perhaps-to-be-established working groups gathered for afternoon sessions on the second day and reported back on this the next day. We can tell at the next (mid-September in Washington) plenary RDA meeting what real actions have been taken up by all these groups, what plans are still valid and where new things are added.

Also for us both at 3TU.datacentre and TU Delft Library we need to work on our ambition and see where we can streamline this with all the RDA initiatives. Will we be able to take part in the yet-to-be-approved engagement working group , the publishing data interest group (with its subgroup on citation of dynamic data), while our DANS colleagues chair the to-be-approved certification working group and more interesting stuff is going in, e.g. in Preservation, or PID information, Terminology, etc ….? What we know for sure is that we cannot do everything, There were three things though that I brought back with me to have some further thoughts about:

  1. Should we (copying Research Data Canada) start a Research Data Netherlands initiative? Where we make sure that there is a voice for the Netherlands in several associations, alliances, working groups and that we think about an efficient workload and division in topics, disciplines?
  2. Would it be an idea (perhaps for the to-be-approved RDA Working Group on Preservation?) to start working on a retention table, so that we take the advice to work on “reductionism” into account?
  3. Is Dataverse Network (which we also will offer to our Delft, Eindhoven and Twente scientists) the thing that is “just as easy” for our scientists to use as Dropbox? Mind you, there is a FileSender option, offered by Surfnet, I am not sure whether we knew about this in Delft!

There was so much more, but I guess I should stop, but not without two more quotes:

  1. Scott Brim: We should  get the horse to drink, the desperate need is there, but it is only clear to us
  2. We could view RDA as green house to let the flowers grow.


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More than marshmallows and candy bar wrappers!

Fourteen colleagues attended the first Ticer Library Directors’ Course from August 19-21, 2012. The last day was a joined one with the participants of the Ticer Summerschool. We did not have time to evaluate this last day with the fourteen of us, so I decided to provide my summary and short comments on this blog.
Firstly it would be appropriate to mention that I indeed valued the Directors’ course: we had some good practical exercises, a lot of things and literature to think about and work on, perhaps not so many strategy issues as I would have anticipated on the first 2 days, but best of all was that I met new and interesting colleagues and the Course Director, Janet Wilkinson, and senior lecturer Roger Fielding, who both did an excellent job. I will never forget our Marshmallow Challenge!

Lorcan Dempsey introduced the Ticer Tuesday (being its Course Director) and did a quick wrap-up of the talk I enjoyed in Birmingham last February. He introduced David Lankes (@rdlankes, see his own post). This was the talk that I liked best, a bit provocative, typical American, but filling in the gap that I had slightly missed on days 1 and 2. Of course not everything was new, but here are a few quick-and-dirty quotes or lines to remember:
– The mission for the library has not changed over all these years, how we do it has  changed.
– What makes it new librarianship is if you realize that knowledge is created through conversation (and not contained in “static” containers).
– As a library we have a voice, if we e.g. give instructions these should be focused on helping the members to learn, not on how they can get access.
– We do not have users, clients or consumers; we have members and they “own” the library and add value to it.
– A place with books is a storage place; a place with librarians is a library.
– A librarian does not need the library building to be a librarian … so a librarian is the one who creates the library.
– We are librarians and we are on a mission. Be radical!
There is a lot I have not put in this summary, a question could be the possible disbalance in the phrases above on “membership or ownership” and “the librarian who creates the library”. Of course we should see this as cocreation, but this puzzles me.

The other three in-depth talks were on Open Access, Research data management and Networks. These were less strategic, but interesting because of the overview we received on the relevant situation, reports and papers. Marc van den Berg had a good interactive voting exercise where all participants had to give theire scores on the ten recommendations the LIBER Working Group on e-Science and Research Data Management had just released. We apparently (and typically?) gave all recommendations almost similar scores. Lorcan Dempsey, in his role as Chair of the day, asked the presenters where they would make their choices in their own libraries, not per se referring to research data management, but in general. The answer to that question remains difficult – I myself would be interested to see whether we in The Netherlands would be able to differentiate between the university libraries the coming years. Further I was triggered by the reference made by Marc on the Gartner hypecycle for education, 2012, where it shows that Digital preservation of research data as a trending topic has had his peak, and could now be overhyped.

At the end of the day we got a Library tour at Tilburg University. Interesting to see that Tilburg invites faculty to come over to the library. Apart from the datalab and teaching lab there is also a dedicated faculty space, only accessible for faculty staff. It is not yet crowded, but a good initiative!

Finally, Rachel L. Frick ( provoked us to come from our often institutional to a networked focus and gave some good examples how this could work for libraries. We discussed the question she gave us, i.e. if the library is unified by a brand (and then, what is this brand)? Interesting for us in Delft (involved as we are as a Library in social innovation, see the (Dutch) weblog) was the reference she made to the constellation model, often used when organising collaborative efforts.


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“Open Access is sacred”

On May 21 and 22 I attended the general meeting of the COAR (Confederation of Open Access Repositories) in Uppsala. Sweden.

Two things from the first day: first the presentation by Xiaolin Zhang (National Science Library, Chinese Academy of Sciences), on institutional repositories in China, going strong and enriched. They increased in three years from 2 to 72 research institutes, not a giant uptake yet though. He advocates that we should see the institutional repository as a knowledge management services, not just as an open access issue or a library issue. He defines three roles, from high stake risk & task (explaining the researcher or group chair what can be accessed, and how achievements can be demonstrated), to high-level responsibility (for the Chinese Academy of Sciences, for the research institutes) to high-level involvement (both the institutional task as well as the CAS expertise).

Further Ralf Schimmer, from the Max Planck Society, Max Planck Digital Library. At MPS the open access commitment is driven by researchers and research directors, so coming from the heart of the researchers. The whole open access debate should be more than a monetary debate, remember the phrase out of the Berlin declaration, it is about “the full exploitation of the internet”. Ralf also tells us that licensing is more than paying to read! Libraries ought to be the organizers of the economic relationship of their institutions with the publishers, open their perspectives and eyes to accept new concepts. Libraries should not just be organizing access to content, but also be arranging use and re-use, archiving & hosting rights, or open access options. The licensing process is where the organised interests of publishers and research community meet, where services are defined and money transactions are organized. MPS has a unified acquisition and open access publication cost budget since 2005. For MPS open access is sacred, if choices need to be made, they cancel subscriptions not open access activities.

The afternoon of my second day was well spent by an elaborate (I refer to it as slow touring) guided tour through the Uppsala university library by Ulf Goranson. Carolina Rediviva is the oldest university library in Sweden, founded in 1620. The university was also the first one and dates from 1477. And then the Uppsala cathedrale, which is scandinavia’s largest and tallest church (and it is equally tall and long: 118,8 metres).


The library today contains 5 million books – with 700000 books from before 1850 – the duplicates are mainly used for decoration in the (not publicly accessible) library conference rooms.

The “new” library building (beginning 19th century) is an inpractical library building, you are not allowed to take your bags and drinks with you. But at least there is central heating now.
“Each library should have a globe”, says Ulf. And they have many in his library, mainly in the closed areas. In the exhibition area you can find the silver bible which is a Gothic (language) gospel book – the silver refers to the cover, which was made later. The text book is almost 1500 years old.
Ulf showed us (me) how a library director can be a story teller, about the building, the library, the university, the books, the history … really impressive. I invited Ulf over to Delft, but warned him that my stories would be different. His room really belongs to him.
I learned that back in the old days the book were reversely stacked, making it actually easier to open them this way.

At the second day the best experience for me was the rotating workshops where 5 topics were discussed with the same group guided by topic moderators. Perhaps not each workshop (we only had 10 minutes per topic) ended up in creative discussions, but altogether this is a way to get all participants to think and work.

The overview from DRIVER to DRIVER2 to OpenAIRE and OpenAIREplus by Donatella Castelli, CNR, Italy, was very useful. Donatella explained to us that each e-infrastructure can play both provider and consumer roles and that the most effective and sustainable e-infrastructure will survive. DRIVER served mainly the community of researchers (retrieval and access of open access scientific documents). The OpenAIRE pilot and now also OpenAIREplus serves the whole community of actors. Whereas OpenAire concentrated on supporting the open access mandate for peer-reviewed publications and monitoring its impact, OpenAIREplus adds all research outputs, and facilitates the exploitation of these outputs.


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Tadatadatada Data!

Shaping Future INFO-structures, Bielefeld Conference, 24-26 April 2012

I attended this conference with two-and-half days of Library lectures, and adjacent an in-depth international meeting of Library directors.

The conference started with Stefan Gradmann from Humboldt University who asked for a new term for the word Library. Librarians should help scientists and scholars with semantic abstracting (enhancing publications via semantic publishing or semantic annotation). Birte Christensen-Dalsgaard from the Royal Library Copenhagen focused my attention for the third time in two months (first one was the Surf Researcher’s Day, second one was discussion at 25th anniversary of IOS Press) on nanopublications: they can help people speedreading, nice explanation I would say. Her talk complemented Stephan’s, where she also emphasized the importance of the quality of the annotation of the data.

A different topic was introduced by Wolfram Neubauer, ETH Zurich, who talked about an organizational change. He very neatly pointed out the importance of the order of these changes, i.e., 1. Discussion of strategy. 2. Definition of product portfolio. 3. Redefinition of process map. 4. New organisational structure. The first talk of the second day, April 25th, also covered change. Jo Richler, from Ciel Associates, UK, had been involved in an embedded change of Sunderland College Library, where people, systems and environment were all tackled. She hammered on measuring value and worth, the latter is often missing in impact measurement.

Of course open access was the topic of the lecture by Alma Swan, from SPARC Europe, Enabling Open Scholarship, and Key Perspectives UK. It was good to have it said again. Open access adds value for the researcher, the institute, science and society. I have not yet spread the following quote she gave, so here it is (from Daniel Coit Gilman, First President of John Hopkins University): ” It is one of the noblest duties of universities to advance knowledge and to diffuse it, not merely among those who can attend the daily lectures, but far and wide”.

The remainder of the day was on data, data and data. From the Dryad Digital Repository, to Data Management Tool DMPTool, DataONE, EUDAT and our own DataCite. Dividing data into temporary data, referable data and citable data (as parts of the data creation cycle). We saw the same arguments as used with open access articles to support open data, i.e., sharing and publishing your data gives high visibility, easy re-use and verification of datasets, and so increases scientific reputation. Articles with data get better cited. Anne E. Trefethen, CIO Oxford, concluded the afternoon with her talk on Drowning in Data, where she told us that everyday life now has a digital footprint. She used a yin-yang picture where data is both the question and the answer. Big data: it is what you do with it that counts (and what others do with it that you didn’t think of). More on data the next day in e.g. the talks by Klaus Tochtermann who showed us how the path has developed from semantic-enhanced retrieval to semantic document representations to semantics in research data management. Philipp Cimiano (from Bielefeld University) made a plea to get data curators in, where curators need to perform knowledge acquisition and choose the correct vocabulary .

Furthermore the Mendeley Institutional Edition (Swets as host) was a new thing for me, not so strange I understood later at the exhibitor’s booth, it has just been introduced. Mendeley (I also mentioned it in my Birmingham blog) helps researchers work smarter. They now have 160 million documents uploaded by 1,6 million users. Nice feature: the reader meter. MIE both improves productivity of the researchers and gives the library real-time visibility. And finally Heiner Stuckenschmidt (CIO at Mannheim University) told us to get applied research in.

My time at Bielefeld had not ended after the last lecture; we continued for an afternoon and a morning with a smaller meeting consisting of library directors from AGUB (German), VOWB (Flemish), and UKB (Dutch). It was good to get to know some more colleagues, exchanging our views on open access, scholarly publishing models, digital collections, repurposing library space and redeploying library staff. Especially the format chosen on Friday morning, where we sat down in small groups in a so-called World Café, where I also got the chance to see the Bielefeld University and Library.


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The Library of Birmingham and so much more

February 28, 2012
My first time attending the EMEA (Europe, Middle-East and Africa) Regional Council meeting of OCLC. Two days in Birmingham, with I guess over 250 delegates from 22 countries (if I got it right). I started off by attending the morning session on APIs. Interesting was the acknowledgement that we should be thinking of really getting library exposure in the users’ workflow. Examples that got some more indepth presentation time were Antonio Tejada and Hans Siem Schweiger from Citavi – Citavi is a tool to support the entire academic research process; interesting feature they showed was an easy way for the user to find databases the institution has subscriptions to. Citavi is also being used as acquisition management tool. The link with the other indepth presentation was of course that they are working with OCLC, and also Ian Mulvany, from Mendeley, had an interesting story. Three PhD’s started Mendeley as a desk-top application making document management and collaboration easy and now they have 1,6 million users, and 160 million user-uploaded documents (not yet unduplicated). What I take home is their notion that the institutional repositories could or should try to get that content linked in (via openauthentication). The discussion ended with a strong plea for usability testing: check out what people actually do, and these tools proof it is worthwhile to focus more on enhancing the workflow, and not per se enriching the experience; and then they are of course do not mean the physical space/experience :).

The afternoon was for me a sort of homecoming, the presentation of the new public Library in Birmingham (due June 2013) by the Library director Brian Gambles together with the architect Francine Houben and an overview of public libraries in the US by Kathleen Imhoff and Erik Boekesteijn presenting the Shanachie Tour. Delft was well covered this afternoon!

Perhaps just a few quotes: • Be inspirational, innovative and inclusive • Do not talk about services, but about the library experience • See the Library as agent for the democratisation of knowledge • The future for libraries is about people, content and context!

I was lucky after all and could visit the building site the next day. Terry Perkins (who visited our Delft Library two years ago) as projectmanager very proudly told us about the building team, that a building is as good as the people working on it, how they involved the neighbourhood, why they needed a risk escalation structure, that an urban farm will be created on the terraces and that a new building also requires a new way of working.

A nice idea is that The Library of Birmingham is being designed with people in mind, and that’s why the Library is looking for (26) great characters to tell the story of this momentous project. They’ve already selected 17 faces of the library.


February 29, 2012
Today surely the OCLC talks that stood out were from Robin Murray, VP Global Product Management and Lorcan Dempsey. Robin referred to the report Libraries at webscale, so I guess most of this can be found there. The broad outline of his talk was that the main challenges for libraries can be seen in Relevance and Efficiency. Further detailed challenges and opportunies are in meeting users at the point of need, unified collection management, and collaboration and innovation. New according to Robin is the OCLC strategic response, and this is the WorldShare overall programme, well that we can read in the report.
More interesting I thought was the afternoon talk by Lorcan Dempsey (from the OCLC Strategic Development Team). Just a few nice quotes then in a row: • Library is about the production of knowledge, the output and impact and not per se about the assembly of information • Website without reviews and ratings is for youngsters like watching a black&white TV • Library space is now about engagement, around user experience, not about collections • If libraries want to be seen as expert, their experience should be visible! • People are entry points (University of Michigan lets you find their librarians in your search) • Connect the human-scale to the web-scale • The library has no agenda others than allowing other people to create their own agenda.
David White (@daveowhite) and Alison Cullingford (@speccolibrad) were also enthusiastic in their talks and worth checking out. David gave us the following search tips for his work: JISC, Visitor and Residents. Alison promised that her RLUK report would be published April 2012 (on unique and distinctive collections).


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