The Midwest Data Librarian Symposium (MDLS) is an annual conference aimed at providing Midwestern librarians, as well as others across the United States, the chance to network and discuss several industry issues and topics related to research data management. This year the event was co-hosted by the University of Cincinnati, The Ohio State University, and Miami University, as well as virtually through online Zoom conference calls and presentations. With free registration to all participants, MDLS focuses on the goal of providing low-cost networking and educational opportunities for established professionals and developing librarians of the future. Relatively new to the environment of Research Data Management, I was eager to represent FSU and the entire state of Florida at the Symposium, being the only participant in attendance at the conference from the state. While I could not travel to participate in the in-person programming, the free registration allowed me to actively engage with the virtual conference presentations and events, like many others over zoom meetings.
Whether it was a zoom scavenger hunt or a presentation surrounding a less talked about subject, like “Making Infographics More Accessible”, I found that with each opportunity to engage I was able to learn something new and many things that I could bring back and put into practice in my own work. The presentations also left me with a lot to contemplate and consider, opening my eyes to information and concepts I had yet to broach or discover through my own work, like Digital Curation and Data Management for filmmakers and documentaries. For example, in the growing industry of filmmaking there are many times limited resources, especially for independent filmmakers, to effectively meet the costs to preserve their data. With barriers, like high memory file capacities, time constraints, and the threat of file corruption or loss of data, documentaries have a much more indirect path to successfully serve as critical sources of historical and cultural documentation.
The vulnerability of data collected in documentaries further illustrates the broader importance to take serious measures to securely store raw data, especially with its potential relevance to guide other research. Additionally, metadata’s pertinence in other research frameworks encapsulates the expansive benefits of open science and universal accessibility. Pressures of academic viability, publishing, and performance can direct researchers’ hesitancy to relinquish ownership and control of data. This exemplifies the utility and demand to create stronger avenues to motivate the open sharing of data even when it is imperfect or incomplete. Procedurally, sharing upon request protocols have been imperfect, to say the least, as the decision to distribute that data is left at the mercy of the Primary Investigator of the original research that was conducted, who may have internal or external factors that motivate, dissuade, or even obstruct their ability to share the data in a timely or consistent manner.
While there were a variety of different topics covered during the conference, several presentations were based around the new National Institutes of Health (NIH) Data Management and Sharing (DMS) policy that will come into effect at the beginning of 2023. More specifically, there were discussions about the effects of this new policy on data management and sharing, as well as how to prepare and instruct those in need of support to navigate through these changes at a university level. For one of the main presentations on this topic the authors conducted semi-structured interviews at their university to survey the research data service needs of their constituents, as well as to gauge and collect their perspectives in relational proximity to the new governmental regulations being put into place. These interviews produced a myriad of noteworthy and interesting observations to take away. Perhaps the most surprising theme to emerge was that many of the researchers and professors were unaware of or unworried about the policy changes, believing that they’d be able to adapt their research practices and proposals when the new year began. Others wondered about how strictly the new policies would be enforced, especially with loose criteria for what might qualify submissions as exceptions and with aspects of proposals not tied to scoring to motivate researchers to put more effort into adopting practices that promote open science. Additional implications of being able to recognize and remove protected health information further supports the importance of collaboration when it comes to properly following research assurance, protocols, and proper maintenance as well as storage of data.
These interviews revealed that many students and faculty across the country were uninformed and/or ill equipped to seamlessly handle this transitional phase that will take place in the coming months to comply with the new NIH DMS policy. Perhaps an even larger overarching takeaway that can be applied is that the general level of informational literacy is relatively low in association to student needs and the expectations that they must meet in order to perform adequately in their field. Adjustments are necessary to overcome the deficiencies in standard coursework that often operates on a foundational assumption that students will come into their academic institutions already having research skills and a working knowledge of information systems, catalogs, and databases. In most cases an established base of informational literacy is required to locate or know that library resources for these causes even exist. Libraries as well as universities more broadly must make an effort to publicly promote their services and resources more widely, while also making them more accessible to effectively address this dilemma. Without additional infrastructure to develop these skills, students have a much larger barrier to overcome the limitations embedded in the university academic framework. Taking levels of privilege into account with access to both technology and experience must also play a part in the organization of their practicum.
As always each institution has its own individual needs as well as priorities and is equipped with different resources to be able to develop the necessary systems and resources to provide its student body with enough support to navigate through all academic challenges. Conferences typically follow a shared academic code of free exchange that open science bases itself on principle. Just look at the public accessibility of most universities’ research guides that they produce and publish and one can truly get a sense of the collaborative instruction that academic libraries strive to achieve. The symposium offers an opportunity that amplifies this ideal, allowing different institutions to come together to cooperate and exchange different ideas through dialogue with similar like-minded individuals trying to reach mutual goals.
Preparing for the Midwest Data Librarian Symposium, my impression was that I’d simply be attending lectures where I’d experience most of the learning. However, in addition to some of the networking events and opportunities, the interconnectedness and interactive components of the entire conference made attending the symposium a much more well-balanced exchange of ideas and information. Moreover, MDLS hosted a slack channel to further promote ongoing discussions and networking, as well as archiving notes that all participants were given access to and permission to contribute as well for each presentation and event. In addition, many of the presentations that were longer than the five-minute rapid-fire “Lightning Talk” featured aspects of involvement from the audience, whether it was through discussion questions, breakout room consultations, or jam board collaborations to exchange ideas on different subjects. The integration of technology was applied seamlessly and improved the overall quality of engagement within the presentations and symposium as a whole. Attending this symposium gave me the chance to consider and discuss countless ideas to bring into practice with my own work. I am grateful for opportunities like these and experiences that enrich professionals at all stages in their careers with an academic environment of common interests and goals.
Author Bio: Liam Wirsansky is a second-year MSI student at Florida State University and the STEM Libraries Graduate Assistant at FSU’s Dirac Library. He currently serves as the President and Artistic Director of White Mouse Theatre Productions at FSU and acts as the Director of Research and Development for the Rosenstrasse Foundation. Liam loves the academic outlet that research has provided him as well as the opportunity to educate and assist students in the development of their information literacy skills.
If you have any questions regarding the Midwest Data Librarian Symposium (MDLS), please contact the organizers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some Helpful Resources That Were Shared at the Symposium:
- University of Arizona Data Management LibGuide: https://data.library.arizona.edu/data-management/nih-data-management-sharing-policy-2023
- University of Michigan Data Stewardship LibGuide: https://research.umich.edu/research-data-stewardship-nih-dmsp/
- A chart to compare generalist data repositories: https://zenodo.org/record/3946720#.Yz7f6nbMKF4
- Here’s how Figshare meets the desirable characteristics: https://help.figshare.com/article/how-figshare-meets-the-nih-desirable-characteristics-for-data-repositories
- The GREI Collaborative Webinar Series on Data Sharing in Generalist Repositories: https://datascience.nih.gov/grei-collaborative-webinar-series
- Some of the work that the Guidance Materials for NIH Data Management and Sharing Plans working group has produced: https://example-dms-plans.github.io/examples/
- NIH STRIDES program, which aims to help NIH and its institutions accelerate biomedical research by reducing barriers in utilizing commercial cloud services: https://cloud.nih.gov/
- Data culture project: https://databasic.io/en/culture
- Models for Digital preservation:
- Duke University Archive of Documentary Arts
- UNC-Chapel Hill – https://www.folkstreams.net/
- Template DMP for documentary filmmakers