ResearchDataQ has published an editorial by Rachel Walton and Patti McCall-Wright (both Rollins College), entitled “What About the Little Guys?: How to Approach Supporting Research Data Management at a Small Liberal Arts College.”
From the introduction:
When it comes to supporting the range of Research Data Management Services (RDMS) that campus communities need in the world of 21st-century scholarly communications, smaller academic institutions are at a major disadvantage. According to an Association of Colleges and Research Libraries (ACRL) survey of more than 200 academic libraries in the US and Canada, a significantly higher percentage of libraries at institutions with more than 5,000 students offered both consultative/informational research data services (RDS) as well as technical/hands-on research data services as of 2012 (ACRL, 2012, p. 20). Furthermore, survey responses indicated that NSF-research-active campuses and those with multiple doctoral programs – in other words those spaces where big-money, high-stakes research takes place — are also more likely to have established RDS programs (ACRL, 2012, pgs. 22-25).
To most, these results are unsurprising. However, readers might be surprised to know that the same survey indicated that library leaders at both large and small institutions recognized (in comparable numbers) that their libraries need to plan to offer RDMS within the next two years (before 2014), even if they currently did not, in order to “engage the data deluge [of a] new data intensive environment” and remain relevant to campus partners (ACRL, 2012, p. 21). Exactly how libraries at smaller institutions should go about establishing these critical (or even basic) research data services – some (though not all) of which require robust technology, funding lines, and designated personnel with special data analytics skills – remained unclear in this early white paper.
This is the exact scenario that we (a Science Librarian and a Digital Archivist) find ourselves in: at a highly-ranked, historic, liberal arts college of about 3,000 students and 250 full-time faculty, all of whom are finding, collecting, and sharing research data without the support of the library. Together and slowly, we have been putting our heads together to try and solve a particularly perplexing component of the RDMS dilemma — how to scale down the model and still provide quality and sustainable services that suit the needs of a particular community? After about two years of effort, we can see that our advocacy and outreach will continue for many more years before we have a solid foundation for RDMS on our small but active campus of dedicated researchers. Though we are early on in our journey, our hope is that the actions taken and lessons learned outlined here will help others working in similar library settings and facing similar challenges.