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Embedding Libraries in Researcher Workflow

Posted by Editor on June 15, 2011

by Roy Tennant, June 14th, 2011

A little while back a tweet came through my stream — thanks, I believe, to @vphill — pointing out a digital collection of lunch trays. Yes, you read that right. Lunch trays. This clearly required investigation, and I couldn’t think of anyone more appropriate to sniff this one out than moi.

It turns out that the University of North Texas is helping a researcher to study the nutrition of school children by photographing lunch trays before and after. By seeing what the children ate, left alone, or destroyed (see torn apart coke can in the pic), they have evidence of what was consumed (or, presumably, thrown) and what was not.

Not long after discovering this I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak to Cathy Hartman from UNT in person about this project at OCLC Research’s (my employer) FutureCast meeting last week. What I find so fascinating, and hopeful, is that the library is much more than simply the grave to which research data is consigned, they are embedded in the research process itself. That is, the researcher is using their repository infrastructure to retain, manage, and organize the data for their research. It is very much a living archive that can be used as long as the researcher (or any who follow) needs, and yet by default it is being preserved and managed by the library.

This is exactly the kind of repository activity that makes sense. By helping to solve a researcher’s problem (how to organize and manage their data) the researcher is inadvertently solving ours — getting our hands on the data in a useful (described) way so we can preserve it for years to come.

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