USTLG meeting on research data management

Clare CollegeYesterday I was at Clare College, University of Cambridge for a meeting organised by USTLG, the University Science & Technology Librarians Group. The group—open to any librarians involved with engineering, science or technology in UK universities—has meetings once or twice a year. The theme of yesterday’s meeting (free to attend, thanks to sponsorship from the IEEE) was data management, with an implied focus on research data.

The meeting consisted of a series of presentations (plus a fantastic lunchtime diversion, below) with plenty of time for networking – there were about 40 people there, all with an interest in research data management – though interestingly, a show of hands suggested very few people were actively engaged in looking after their own institution’s researchers’ data.

As usual, this blog post has been partially reconstructed from the Twitter stream (hashtag #ustlg).

First up, Laura Molloy, substituting for Joy Davidson of the Digital Curation Centre (DCC), on a project called the Data Management Skills Support Initiative (DaMSSI), looking at the [shades of information literacy] skills needed by different people involved in the research data curation process. “DaMSSI aims to facilitate the use of tools like Vitae’s Researcher Development Framework (RDF) and the Seven Pillars of Information Literacy model” developed by SCONUL. Key question: how do you assess the effectiveness of research data management training?

Useful links:

Second, Yvonne Nobis of Cambridge’s Central Science Library talked about supporting researchers at Cambridge: data sharing and the role of librarians; including her project—funded through CUL’s Arcadia library staff research scheme—looking at the issues involved in curating not research data per se, but the software code and techniques used to analyse that source data. Key points: [1] there are disincentives (time, and lack of recognition within ones own field) to researchers’ spending time on code/software for research data manipulation. [2] But without that investment in code, the transparency–openness–replicability of computational-data science is at risk. [3] “Librarians are missing a trick” by not engaging in research data software curation issues. Yvonne also talked about the work of the eScience Centre.

Links and articles…

Before lunch we also got a chance to inspect the USTLG’s brand new website (and smashing new logo), at

Then the highlight of the day… we were invited in groups over to go over to the adjacent University Library, where we were treated to a display and commentary on some of Cambridge University’s rare science manuscripts and early printed books. All laid out in a reading room were Isaac Newton’s notebooks containing his notes on the method of fluxions (i.e. early calculus), Darwin’s field notes from the Beagle, Ernest Rutherford’s lab diaries (still slightly radioactive! – “…not ever so, but Health & Safety made us do a risk-assessment…”), plus Prof. Stephen Hawking’s typed and ring-bound first draft of A brief history of time, along with several early printed herbals and a book containing the first known technical drawings (of machines of warfare). Inspiring stuff, and really quite brilliant of them to lay it out for us to see!

In the afternoon—not directly connected with research data, but certainly of interest to the engineers involved in the Orbital project—we heard from Rachel Berrington of the IEEE, about the work of the organisation and some of the planned developments to the IEEE Xplore platform: new journal titles in 2012, a mobile platform, the inclusion of CrossRef data, and new interactive HTML content.

Handful of interesting links:

Finally, a useful presentation from Anna Collins, Research Data and Digital Curation Officer (good job title) for Cambridge’s DSpace repository. Anna spoke about the Incremental project, a joint exercise between Cambridge and the University of Glasgow, aimed at providing a best practice approach to supporting data management techniques amongst research communities. This is really good practical nuts & bolts stuff (e.g. when’s the right time to broach the subject of data curation with a PhD student? Too early, and they won’t care – too late, and the best you can do is help pick up the pieces!). I’ll be recommending my colleagues at Lincoln take a look at the materials on both institution’s websites. Top quote: “be the boss of your hard drive”!

Links from Anna’s presentation:

(An aside: after the USTLG meeting had ended, I was lucky enough to get a quick tour of [about 1% of] the Cambridge University Library, along with a cup of tea in the staff room(!), thanks to a “badly-encoded” colleague. I won’t blog about it in any detail now—hopefully I should be back in Cambridge in January for another Orbital-related event—but it’s just a jaw-dropping library.)

The new USTLG website is at, and you can follow them on Twitter at @USTLG.