One of our former Lennox Interns, Kathleen Fear 2008, has received the A. R. Zipf Fellowship in Information Management for 2011. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Information at the University of Michigan where she also received her MSI with a specialization in preservation of information, and has a bachelors degree in physics from Yale University. We are all proud or and excited for Kathleen. Below is her description of her research project on preserving data.
As an archivist with a scientific background, I am interested in the management of research data, especially how to create archives and repositories that enable easy retrieval and reuse of data. Scientific data is incredibly valuable, and much of it is unique, difficult or expensive to reproduce. While there is increasing recognition of this fact and interest in creating repositories to capture and preserve data, there is much less research into how those repositories can support meaningful reuse. Beyond retaining the ability to read or render data, repositories must provide enough (and appropriate) metadata to allow potential reusers to find data that suits their needs and, further, to understand the data and its context. My research interests center on identifying user needs for metadata for finding and selecting research data for reuse.
This area of interest arose for me in part actually because of my internship at ISU. While discussing how to best catalog digitized images from the ISU collections, an important question that came up was what metadata users would actually need to be able to retrieve and use those images. Should they be cataloged to print standards – or were those kinds of records too cumbersome for users and too time-consuming for the catalogers? Should they just be tagged, flickr-style, or does that result in low-quality, unhelpful records? We didn’t know the answer, and it didn’t seem like there was an answer ‘out there,’ or at least not one grounded in solid research on users. When I returned to U-M after my internship, I turned this problem into the central question for my master’s thesis – and it’s remained basically the focus of my research ever since.
A major contribution of my work (…I hope) is to inform efforts to build repositories for research data that actively support researchers in finding and reusing or repurposing data. By better understanding what information researchers need available to them as metadata for reuse, data managers could more effectively guide researchers in documenting their data and in building databases or repositories for individual projects that could then more easily be integrated into disciplinary or institutional repositories for long-term preservation.