Chris Rusbridge retweeted my tweet last night announcing my previous post. His prefatory comment gave me pause: "Curation by researcher or librarian?"

Er, both? Plus IT? I've never thought anything different, and if I've given the impression that I want to grab the entire pie for librarianship, I hereby apologize profusely.

Acknowledging right now that I have a big dog in this hunt—namely, that data curation is work I want to do—and that undoubtedly biases my analysis, my fear isn't what Chris seems to think it is. My fear isn't that libraries won't own the entire data curation enterprise; libraries couldn't if we wanted to. It'd be like saying that we want to own every single facet of book production, including authoring, because of our interest in the dissemination of books. We'd never say that; it's senseless.

No, my fear is that libraries and librarians are being written entirely out of data curation—by librarian administrators like Mike Lesk, by consultants like Alma Swan, by IT folks like Chris himself, by researchers whose notion of libraries and librarians is stuck in the 1950s… and all of this rolling negativity leads librarians to assume we're helpless and irrelevant. (It doesn't help, of course, that learned helplessness faced with a technology-dependent problem is quite common in librarianship.)

This, despite the indubitable fact that outside the three or four fields that have established informatics specializations, the educational organizations that have stepped up to address this need are practically without exception library and information schools. What are we creating here? A situation in which our new cadre of trained professionals can't get jobs because their chief qualification may have the fatal word "library" in it? Good gravy, I hope not!

I hope this clarifies my stance. Of course we need researchers. Of course we need IT. And, may I say: of course we need librarians.


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Two comments:

Maybe it's just a quirk, but I always self-identify as librarian, even though it's not part of my title. I have a boss (head of our Instruc/Info Tech Group) who regularly introduces me a having a library background (this in technical settings and conversations w/ faculty & admins) with a tone that says "listen to him -- he knows what he's talking about" or "he understands both sides -- researcher side AND techie side." It's nice to have that sort of affirmation & think librarians generally deserve it.

Also, I tend to be pretty demanding in conversations about technical topics. I leave the jargon out, but I never assume an academic won't "get" the underlying concepts. In my experience it has been incredible how productive those relationships grow to be over time. I like simple tools, but tools that don't hide what complexity there is by sugar-coating it. It's why something like FileMaker drives me insane -- way too much hand-holding, mixing structure w/ presentation, etc. Just this morning I had a client show up w/ Word documents of video transcripts they had created. I explained that we needed to separate the structured data from its presentation, illustrated so w/ a quick example of what an XML encoding of the transcript might look like and we were off to the races. Techie as "high priest" is a cultural norm in our business that I will have no part of. I can't tell you the number of times, with a little push as I described above, the academic came back later with all kinds of useful & insightful ideas about how to approach their problem -- ideas that I would *never* have arrived at on my own. I think that's a great role that librarians can and do play.

Peter, great comment and I agree on all counts!

Michael, I hadn't heard that before -- I'll be looking up the term because I think I rather like it.

I see the same trend here in MPOW. There's a lot of science going on here and tons of data to manage, but we've been bypassed for several reasons imho: 1) sucky systems - with the ILS being the key barrier - drains too much resources and does too little, and introducing new systems come with too little investment; 2) MARC world view - too many librarians and managers think that if it doesn't fit into MARC and AACR2 bib model, then it's not our business, but our scientists want their data curated with their metadata standards, not ours!; and 3) lack of vision and investment - for example, open source imho is a key enabler and too many of us are getting on board late in the game.