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Ellen has already written an admirably thorough posting on the LAUNC-CH Conference we attended on Monday, but now that my week has finally settled down to merely busy instead of insanely packed as it draws to a close, I can add a few comments.

I’ll begin by talking about the most interesting session I attended, which was called “Models for Library Data Services.” Barrie Hayes, Michelle Hayslett and Erin O’Meara, all librarians at UNC-CH, discussed UNC’s Data Management Working Group, and their work in providing data-related services to the university. Now, your first question may be what are data services? It has to do with managing large sets of research data and making it available. Why is this important? There are quite a few reasons:

  • Research may be duplicated if original data is lost.
  • Computing capabilities are increasing the speed with which data is produced and the size of data files kept.
  • More researchers are collaborating across institutional, state and national lines which means they have to share data.
  • The NIH requires grant-recipients to provide a data management plan.
  • Many journals are requiring the submission of data when articles are submitted for publication.
  • Publishers are starting to realize that data is a valuable commodity.

Because of these factors, libraries are establishing data archives, providing analysis support and methodology consulting, and educating faculty and students in how to manage and access these data sets. Many libraries are using institutional repositories (such as our own WakeSpace) to manage these data sets, but there are number of difficult issues involved with this, relating to the security of the data, the problems of storing huge quantities of data, and the network space needed for managing and manipulating enormous data sets.

In the morning, I attended a two-part session that discussed the re-design of two library portal websites, the African American Documentary Resources Portal at UNC-CH and Historical State at NCSU. Both sites were more than ten years old and in desperate need of serious re-working. Several general rules emerged from the two presentations.

  • Educate users (faculty, students, staff) about the portal.
  • Promote the new version of a portal.
  • Provide means for feedback and promotion using Web 2.0 tools (blogs, Facebook, etc.).
  • Make sure the site is interactive and allows for movement back and forth between different applications, rather than dumping the user out of the portal site and into another app.
  • Trying to harvest data from catalog records to use for other purposes can be difficult because of the amount of massaging the data requires.

One particularly thorny problem faced at UNC, was that the Patron Services librarians wanted to harvest user data so they could push information to researchers based on their previous uses of the site, but they found that their privacy policies did not allow this. The librarians have proposed changing the registration form used to grant usage of the Southern Historical Collection, to include questions about use of the Portal and to request permission to send the user tailored information about the Portal.

The conference ended with a panel discussion with library users from the UNC-CH community, including a professor, two grad students, and two undergrads, about their use of the library. The session was often quite amusing and clearly demonstrated the vital need for libraries to constantly educate and inform their users about the services they offer (because, frankly, some of the gaps in the panelists’ knowledge were appalling). We have to tell ’em what we’ve got and how to use it. And then we’ve got to tell ’em again.