The Research Data Access and Preservation (RDAP) Summit is an annual conference focusing on management, access, and preservation of research data that brings together professionals and students from various fields such as library science, data management, and research data specialists. As a graduate assistant, I was lucky enough to have FSU Libraries sponsor my registration for the virtual conference, allowing me to attend the RDAP Summit for the first time in my professional career. The 2023 summit offered attendees a wide range of sessions, workshops, and networking opportunities.
As a virtual conference the RDAP 2023 summit was hosted on the comprehensive and digital platform, Whova, which enabled attendees to network, access conference materials, and attend presentations seamlessly. The platform was used to provide attendees with the most updated information about the conference, including schedules, speakers’ profiles, and session descriptions.
One of the features that really stood out to me and which made networking seamless was the Whova community board. The community board allowed attendees to connect with other professionals and students in their field based on demographic information provided by LinkedIn, which harmoniously connected to the Whova platform. Attendees could post questions, comments, and ideas, as well as view and respond to others’ posts under discussion threads with specific topics ranging from personal to professional. The community board was a great way for attendees to exchange ideas, establish new professional relationships, and keep up-to-date on the latest developments in the research data field.This also included a thread with several listings for employment opportunities as an information professional. This thread was perhaps the busiest as countless positions were listed by other attendees at the conference that you could interact and engage with on a more personal level than would typically be possible in normal circumstances. Whova’s platform also provided attendees with the ability to create their own virtual business card, making it easy to exchange contact information with other attendees. Attendees could easily share their business card with other attendees, and they could save other attendees’ information to their contacts list.
One other feature that made attending the conference presentations seamless was the ability to create a personalized schedule. I was able to select the sessions and workshops I wanted to attend before the conference even began to ensure that I did not miss any important sessions. Since all of the presentations were all hosted on Whova, rather than an external service such as Zoom, the schedule provided an immediate access point to presentations. Because of the direct interconnectedness of the platform to the conference panels, access to conference materials such as presentations, posters, and other materials were readily available and easy to locate.
The aspects of community building were made abundantly clear by the different opportunities to network or even share your own scholarly work. This also included the conference presentations, which highlighted the latest trends, challenges, and opportunities in research data access and preservation. The continuing need for open communication and collaboration between academic libraries nationwide through similar values that shape the world of open science and data today was abundantly evident.
One presentation that demonstrated these collectivized efforts was the first session that I attended, which focused on teaching and outreach. Ruby MacDougall, who serves as an analyst for Ithaka S+R, discussed how the infrastructure to support digital research is unevenly distributed, as the connecting links between steps in the research workflow are often weak or missing. Ruby described how data librarians from a range of institutions are working to create stronger ties to humanities researchers and identify strategies for helping humanists navigate the digital infrastructure.
For some context, Ithaka S+R is a nonprofit research organization that helps academic institutions and cultural organizations sustainably navigate the digital age. They offer a wide range of research, advisory, and consulting services to help institutions make informed decisions that enhance their missions, workflows, and user experiences. The organization conducts research on key issues facing universities and colleges, such as the impact of technology on teaching and learning, student success, and faculty development. They also work with institutions to develop strategic plans and make data-informed decisions that align with their goals and values.
This presentation was also significant and meaningful because Nicholas Ruhs, the Research Data Management Librarian for FSU Libraries (who also serves as my supervisor), is currently participating and representing Florida State University amongst the other academic institutions active in the study. At this juncture, the study is in the preliminary phases of creating an inventory of university data services by reviewing web content of various departments and offices across campus to see what services exist and where in order to create a map of all of the data services on campus. On the surface, it may appear that all of the necessary mechanisms for supporting digital research with proper data management at a university level are in place, but the connecting links between steps in the research workflow are often weak or missing. Mapping out these services will allow FSU Libraries and libraries at other institutions to better coordinate their efforts at addressing the research and scholarly needs of their students and faculty.
Speaking of accessibility, RDAP made a significant effort to diversify their presentations, but also keep them organized and efficient. The posters portion of the RDAP Summit was an opportunity for researchers and practitioners in the research data field to showcase their work in a static and asynchronous format. The poster format gave presenters an effective method to communicate complex ideas and research findings in a clear and concise way, and they offered a chance for attendees to engage with presenters and ask questions about their work, or to view the posters at their own availability and discretion. Because the poster presentations had their own section, conference attendees could visit them at any time and even start a conversation or ask questions to the presenters. Even now after the conference has ended, I can still access these posters as they exist in a digital collection.
One of my biggest takeaways from the poster presentations was again the emphasis on collaboration and community-building in the research data field. Many posters showcased partnerships between academic institutions, libraries, and other organizations to develop and implement data management plans and policies. Others highlighted the importance of building networks and communities of practice to support data sharing and reuse. The diversity of research and practice in the field of research data was also on display with the posters covering a wide range of topics, from data management and preservation to data sharing and reuse, as well as the ethical and social implications of research data. For example, one poster presented a framework for ethical data sharing in the social sciences, while another addressed the challenges of incorporating Indigenous perspectives and knowledge into data management and preservation practices.
Furthermore, one of the most discussed topics at the conference was the new NIH and OSTP guidelines on data management and sharing. The guidelines present both opportunities and challenges for researchers, institutions, and stakeholders in the research community. The policy changes aim to improve the transparency, reproducibility, and efficiency of research by requiring grant applicants to include data-management plans and make their research data publicly available. One of the main challenges of compliance is the need for researchers to have the necessary skills and resources to manage and share their research data effectively. This can involve issues such as data formatting, storage, documentation, and curation, as well as ethical and legal considerations related to data sharing and privacy. To address these ongoing obstacles, universities and other research institutions are responding by developing Research Data Management support services and infrastructure to help researchers manage their data throughout the research lifecycle. These can include data-management planning tools, data repositories, data curation services, and training and support for researchers on data management and sharing best practices. Researchers must ensure that data sharing is done in a way that protects the privacy and confidentiality of research participants and respects intellectual property rights.
While NIH and OSTP have issued guidelines and policies to address these issues, not everything has been made clear as the policies are still quite recent or new. NIH and OSTP are responding to inquiries and questions arising from these policy changes and expectations by providing guidance and support to researchers and institutions. NIH has launched a website on data management and sharing, which provides resources and guidance on data management planning, data repositories, and data sharing policies. OSTP has also issued a public access policy memo that outlines the key principles and expectations for data management and sharing across federal agencies. However, as one of the presenters pointed out, specific questions arise and exceptions that are listed in the new policy mandates may not always be clear, or even come into direct conflict with other policies already implemented. Additionally, not all of the information put forth is available within the policy itself. Abigail Goben, associate professor and data management librarian for the University of Illinois Chicago, discussed the rabbit hole she went down searching for the information her researchers needed relating to patent protection and open data sharing. She ultimately utilized guidance issued from the prepared remarks of Director Taunton Paine in September 2022 over a NIH Training Webinar and followed up with an email directly to the Sharing Policies & Data Management and Sharing Policy Implementation Team in order to get the proper information. However their response provided potentially conflicting guidance as well as information not listed or available on the sharing.nih.gov website.
Overall, conferences such as these open the door to connect and hear about the experiences of others in the profession. In so doing we continue the spread of information and ideas, some of which are not always readily or easily accessible to those who need it. Attending the Research Data Access and Preservation (RDAP) Summit 2023 was an amazing opportunity for professionals and students interested in the management, access, and preservation of research data. Discussions that address the research and scholarly needs of students and faculty highlighted the need for open communication and collaboration between academic libraries nationwide. The presentations were diverse, efficient, and organized, and the posters provided an opportunity for attendees to engage with presenters and ask questions about their work. The RDAP Summit 2023 was a great success, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in research data management in the coming years.