Tagged: academic library

Data Services and Terminology: Research Data versus Secondary Data

Guest post by Starr Hoffman, editor of Dynamic Research Support for Academic Libraries.

Similar to the confusion between open access as opposed to open source, the terms research data and secondary data are sometimes confused in the academic library context. A large source of confusion is that the simple term “data” is used interchangeably for both of these concepts.

What is Research Data?

As research data management (RDM) has become a hot topic in higher education due to grant funding requirements, libraries have become involved. Federal grants now require researchers to include data management plans (DMPs) detailing how they will responsibly make taxpayer-funded research data 1) available to the public via open access (for instance, depositing it in a repository) and 2) preserve it for the future. Because there are often gaps in campus infrastructure around RDM and open access, many academic libraries have stepped in to provide guidance with writing data management plans, finding appropriate repositories, and in other good data management practices.

This pertains to original research data–that is, data that is collected by the researcher during the course of their research. Research data may be observational (from sensors, etc), experimental (gene sequences), derived (data or text mining), among other type, and may take a variety of forms, including spreadsheets, codebooks, lab notebooks, diaries, artifacts, scripts, photos, and many others. Data takes many forms not only in different disciplines, but in different methodologies and studies.

Example: For instance, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown performs a series of experiments in which he notes the exact speed at which a DeLorean will perform a time jump (88 MPH). This set of data is original research data.


Image source: Back to the Futue by Graffiti Life from Flickr user MsSaraKelly

What is Secondary Data?

Secondary data is usually called simply “data” or “datasets.” (For the sake of clarity, I prefer to refer to it as “secondary data.”) Unlike research data, secondary data is data that the researcher did not personally gather or produce during the course of their research. It is pre-existing data on which the researcher will perform their own analysis. Secondary data may be used either to perform original analyses or for replication (studies which follow the exact methodology of a previous study, in order to test the reliability of the results; replication may also be performed by following the same methodology but gathering a new set of original research data). Secondary data can also be joined to additional datasets, including datasets from different sources or joining with original research data.

Example: Let’s say that Marty McFly makes a copy of Doc Brown’s original data and performs a new analysis on it. The new analysis reveals that the DeLorean was only able to time-jump at the speed of 88 MPH due to additional variables (including a power input of 1.21 jigowatts). In this case, the dataset is secondary data.

Reuse of Research Data

Another potential point of confusion is that one researcher’s original research data can be another researcher’s secondary data. For instance, in the example above, the same dataset is considered original research data for Doc Brown, but is secondary data for Marty McFly.

Back to the Future

Image source: Back to the Future by Flickr user Garry Knight

Data Services: RDM or Secondary Data?

The phrase “data services” can also be confusing, because it may encompass a variety of services. A potential menu of data services could include:

  • Assistance locating and/or accessing datasets.
    o This might pertain to vendor-provided data collections, consortial collections (such as ICPSR), locally-produced data (in an institutional repository), or with publically-accessible data (such as the U.S. census).
    o Because this service specifically focuses on accessing data, it by default pertains to secondary data.
  • Data management plan (DMP) assistance.
    o Typically only applies to original research data.
  • Data curation and/or RDM services.
    o These may include education on good RDM practices, assistance depositing data into an institutional repository (IR), assistance (or full-service) creating descriptive or other metadata, and more.
    o Typically only provided for original research data. However, if transformative work has been done to a secondary dataset (such as merging with additional datasets or transforming variables), data curation / RDM may be necessary.
  •  Assistance with data analysis.
    o This service is more often provided for students than for faculty, but may include both groups.
    o Services may include providing analysis software, software support, methodological support, and/or analytical support.
    o May include support for both original research data and secondary data.

You Say “Data Are,” I Say “Data Is” …Let’s Not Call the Whole Thing Off!

So in the end, what does all this matter? The primary takeaway is to be clear, particularly when communicating about services the library will or won’t provide, about specific types of data. In many cases this will be obvious–for instance, “RDM” contains within it the term “research data” and is thus clear. Less clear is when a library department decides to provide “assistance with data.” What does this mean? What kind of assistance, and for what kind of data? Is the goal of the service to support good management of original research data? Or is the goal to support the finding and analysis of secondary data that the library has purchased? Or another goal altogether?

Clarity is key both to understanding each other and to clearly communicating emerging services to our researchers.

Starr Hoffman is Head of Planning and Assessment at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she assesses many activities, including the library’s support for and impact on research. Previously she supported data-intensive research as the Journalism and Digital Resources Librarian at Columbia University in New York. Her research interests include the impact of academic libraries on students and faculty, the role of libraries in higher education and models of effective academic leadership. She is the editor of Dynamic Research Support for Academic LibrariesWhen she’s not researching, she’s taking photographs and travelling the world.

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Library support for the research lifecycle

Starr Hoffman has made two videos to support her new book Dynamic Research Support for Academic Libraries, published this month by Facet. The first video describes how academic libraries can support the research lifecycle for faculty and students and the second introduces the book and defines ‘research support’.

Creative ideas & practical guidance for librarians supporting research & scholarly communication


Facet are pleased to announce the release of two new books, Practical Tips for Facilitating Research and Dynamic Research Support for Academic Libraries.

Higher education is in a period of rapid evolution and academic libraries must continually evaluate and adjust their services to meet new needs. Librarian roles are changing and new specialisms, such as data librarians are emerging.  Activities are being driven by researcher requirements such as the demand for wider dissemination and the impact of research.

Two new books from Facet Publishing, Practical Tips for Facilitating Research and Dynamic Research Support for Academic Libraries, will provide inspiration and practical guidance to enable LIS staff developing their role in the research environment to evaluate their current provision and develop services to meet the evolving needs of the research community.

Practical Tips for Facilitating Research offers innovative tips and reliable best practice to assist academic liaison librarians, research support librarians and all library and information professionals who work with research staff and students.

Author Moira Bent said, “my book bridges the gap between theory and practice, grounding the very practical ideas garnered from library and information staff around the world in current research in the library and information science discipline.”

Dynamic Research Support for Academic Libraries provides inspiration through illustrative examples of emerging models of research support and is contributed to by library practitioners from across the world.

Editor Starr Hoffman said, “Dynamic Research Support for Academic Libraries is designed to inspire librarians and administrators to think of ‘research support’ not merely as Reference 2.0, but as an innovative, holistic activity that should be distributed throughout the organization.”

A preview chapter for each book is available on the Facet website, along with information about how to order.

Preview Practical Tips for Facilitating Research

Preview Dynamic Research Support for Academic Libraries

Supporting students with blended learning


“support” by Igor Grushevskiy, used under CC BY 2.0

Barbara Allan, author of the forthcoming Facet book Emerging Strategies for Supporting Student Learning, writes about supporting student learning with blended learning on the Information Today Europe website. Read the arcticle here.

Metaliteracy in Practice

Metaliteracy in Practice

Metaliteracy in Practice will provide inspiration for librarians and educators in need of up-to-date and thought-provoking information literacy curricula and instructional approaches.

Editors Trudi E. Jacobson and Thomas P. Mackey, respected leaders in distance education and library instruction, reframed information literacy in their acclaimed previous book, Metaliteracy: Reinventing information literacy to empower learners, which provided an inclusive framework that encompasses all the newer literacies such as digital, visual, cyber and media literacy. Metaliteracy in Practice builds on the success of this book, placing its concepts firmly in real-world practice and delivering a compilation of innovative and practical teaching ideas from some of the leading thinkers in library and information literacy instruction today.

Each chapter takes readers through the process of using the metaliteracy framework in new and exciting ways that easily transfer to the classroom and to work with students. These ideas are grounded in teaching traditional information literacy competencies but brought up-to-date with the addition of methods for teaching and learning about metacognition, information creation and participation in learning communities.

The case studies contained in this collection detail the hows and whys of curricular design for metaliteracy, suitable for both beginners and seasoned professionals. Readers will also benefit from the book’s practical ideas for:

  • teaching students about the importance of format choice
  • assessing user feedback
  • creating information as teachers
  • evaluating dynamic content critically and effectively
  • sharing information in collaborative environments.

The collection has some of the most innovative teaching ideas for inspiring librarians and educators to revise lessons on critical thinking and information literacy, so that their students will graduate with the ability to formulate and ask their own questions.

Find out more about Metaliteracy in Practice on the Facet website.

3 things I always ask myself about a new or refurbished library space

This blog post originally appeared on the CILIP website.

Original: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28752865@N08/14276325195

Flickr cc image from Karen Roe

I read recently that the judging for the gardens entered into the 2015 Chelsea Flower Show has been modified with the aim of enabling more objective judgements to be made for the various award categories.

There seems to have been a problem previously that these judgements were based on opinions so, as you might expect, a system has been devised that awards points to each of 9 criteria resulting in a number that then determines the award.

Sound familiar? – It’s what we always do when faced with something that involves complexity – supposedly making it objective by turning the judgements into a number. We seem to think that numbers mean more than words and that turning our subjective opinions into ‘objective’ numbers is a way of making the judgement transparent. But great gardens are an act of creativity that exist to provide an experience – as one eminent critic said about the new system ‘where is the love and passion in the judgement?”

Like libraries, gardens fundamentally affect us emotionally and any assessment of their worth has inevitably to be about how they make us feel.

Whenever I visit a new or refurbished library I am inevitably asked what I think about it – I never give a simple numerical score. There are 3 perspectives that I usually base my comments on.

What does the building say to me? 

Original: http://www.flickr.com/photos/22490717@N02/4184694331

Flickr cc image from Dennis Jarvis

The first is prompted by John Ruskin, one of the founding fathers of the Arts and Crafts movement, who is reputed to have said that buildings should not just shelter us but that they should also speak to us. I think this is a powerful idea that can help us to understand a library space.

Asking ourselves what the space says to us and whether there is a clear message, multiple messages, confused messages or none at all is a useful starting point for developing an overall assessment of it.

It is also a useful way for library managers to think about their spaces – what are they intended to say to those that use the library? What we are trying to say with library space reflects our expectations about the way it will be used. It forms the heart of the vision and purpose for the library and provides a baseline to assess, through conversations with our users, whether we are being heard and understood and whether and how space should be modified over time.

Original: http://www.flickr.com/photos/37804979@N00/10575317565

Flickr cc image from Tony Hisgett

Spaces speak to those that use them through environmental factors that give psychological cues such as layout, colour and graphics. In the Saltire Centre we used such cues to make it clear which spaces were for engaging in active group work and which were for solitary quiet study for example. The Library of Birmingham, through its use of colour in particular, speaks of the industrial heritage of the city and the entrance to the recently refurbished Liverpool Central Library has the feel of an ocean liner linking it to the city’s shipbuilding past. Is it a place of learning?

Is it a place of learning?

In Better Library and Learning Space I point out that libraries, all libraries, have always been about learning and that this role is of increasing importance in a world where learning is bursting out of classrooms and becoming a lifelong, web-supported activity.

Original: http://www.flickr.com/photos/99116610@N04/11050441386

Flickr cc image from jwltr freiburg

Libraries have an increasingly important role to play as part of the national learning infrastructure. So, secondly, I think about how a space performs as a place of learning. Does it acknowledge the wide variety of forms of learning, the diversity of needs, and the individuality of learners? Does it have the flexibility to change what it provides over time? Does it recognise the embedded nature of technology in learning and allow for its development? Above all is the space designed for learning in all its rich variety?

I think for many libraries this means making use of the architecture that already exists to ensure that the best learning environments can be created. Good examples include the local and family history room at Leeds Central Library that encourages a collaborative exploration of the past, the Mini Theatre at City University Hong Kong and the Li Yuan library in China, which is a library as a place for contemplation.

Does it contribute to its community?

Original: http://www.flickr.com/photos/26204872@N08/8151390771

Flickr cc image from San Jose Library

Thirdly, and this really is why a tick box numerical assessment of library space is of little use, how does it respond to the hope, needs and aspirations of the communities it serves? For although there is a consensus on current trends in aspects of design and configuration, what really matters is how a space interprets these trends in the context of its locality.

The way in which the space of the library contributes to its community, its ‘local fit’, shows how it is responding to its locality. The Hive at Worcester shows how important ‘local fit’ can be in the success of a library through its integration of services that meet the needs of both the University and the public. In Australia, the vast distances that libraries serve has led to radically different solutions, such as Indigenous Knowledge Centres like the one on Palm Island and the library at Mount Gambier, which focuses on being a place of social gathering and interaction.

These local interpretations of international trends make every library unique, and provide an endless variety of species in the library ecosystem. Developing rich descriptions of the libraries that we have, based on what they say to us, how they support learning and develop their communities, enables us all to learn and develop better library and learning space into the future.

What do you think makes for good library design? What are your favourite examples of good library design? Let us know in the comments.

Les Watson is a library and learning consultant who previously spent 35 years working in education as a teacher, lecturer, Head of IT Services, Dean of Learning and Information Services and Pro Vice Chancellor. His book Better Library and Learning Space: Projects, trends and ideas was published in October 2013 and has now also been released as an e-book available here.