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Betsy Wilson's recent presentation and the postings on the New Directions blog have given me plenty to think about. In fact, Terry Huwe's recent post, But Is It 'Library Work?' Thoughts on Betsy Wilson's Presentation inspired this post.
Terry writes compellingly of his positive experience with developing web and desktop publishing services for his constituents. He advocates that by going beyond what many believe is traditional 'library work' we can use our core competencies in research support, taxonomy and preservation to move into new areas where there are great unmet needs, and in doing so, garner a reputation within the University as a vibrant and relevant entity.
Betsy Wilson had a similar message. In her presentation she alluded to the question, How do libraries say relevant once they have made the transition from print to electronic? For the University of Washington, one answer seems to be e-science. Should we follow UW's lead and embrace e-science? What exactly is e-science anyway?
According to Wikipedia(!), e-science is a term used to describe computationally intensive science that is carried out in highly distributed network environments, or science that uses immense data sets that require grid computing. This is the kind of research in fields like particle physics, earth sciences and bioinformatics that can generate huge amounts of data, up into the terabyte and petabyte ranges.
If you are not familiar with the term, you might be surprise to learn that ARL has a Joint Task Force on Library Support for E-Science whose work should be completed by the end of the year. One item in the charge to the Task Force includes Engaging ARL members in the development of new roles for libraries as e-science infrastructure and service needs emerge at research institutions and promoting the contributions of research libraries in this arena.
E-science involves data stewardship (curation and preservation) on an extremely large scale. E-science discussions often lead to talk of opportunities for text mining and endorsements of open access/open data, issues in which we have vested interests. On a more local level, there is institutional interest in seeing that data generated by faculty is preserved, analogous to the interest in institutional repositories for faculty publications. Even NIH is an advocate of data archiving and sharing. Since October 2003, investigators submitting a research application requesting $500,000 or more are expected to include a plan for sharing final research data for research purposes, or state why data sharing is not possible.
But is it 'library work'? I believe it is. Why not? We are the best positioned, in terms of a central campus role, and have experience with data curation and preservation and institutional repositories. We also have a long history of professional advocacy for the sharing of resources for the common good. I certainly don't have the requisite expertise, but I bet some of my library colleagues do. And if not, the library could hire the right people.
E-science data stewardship represents a huge unmet need and the library could be a key player in addressing the issue. I encourage you to explore the ARL site and to keep e-science in mind as we explore our new directions.