Evolving data practices are re-shaping the academic landscape. Here at Ithaka S+R we’ve been tracking how scholars’ data support needs are evolving more widely through our triennial U.S. faculty survey and through deep dives into specific disciplinary practices, such as our recent report on Civil and Environmental Engineering. We’ve also uncovered how scholars’ work in data communities challenges the traditional disciplinary and institutional siloing that typically informs how research supports are designed. Considering these findings alongside trends in data librarian staffing and library director strategic priorities suggests that most academic libraries are just beginning to consider how to evolve service models to respond to growing data practice needs.

With this in mind, Ithaka S+R is now developing two new research projects in partnership with academic libraries to investigate scholars’ evolving research and teaching practices towards envisioning how universities can best support working with data. The first project focuses on teaching with data in the social sciences at the undergraduate level and the second project focuses on supporting big data research practices–and we are now seeking academic libraries to join us.

Teaching with data (Spring 2020)

There is a growing consensus that higher education must help students develop the foundational skills necessary for success in today’s data-driven world. Universities have a mandate to help students achieve “data literacy”—a complex skillset that includes the ability to find, evaluate, and communicate data as evidence, and to understand the systems that enable its interpretation and use. This is particularly important in the social sciences, where a dataset’s context is often as meaningful as its content. 

Undergraduate instructors in the social sciences need support in locating appropriate datasets and identifying tools to help students manipulate, understand, and visualize data. Through Ithaka S+R’s Teaching with Data in the Social Sciences project we will investigate these needs further through interviews with undergraduate instructors. This project builds off Ithaka S+R’s ongoing research program investigating teaching practices and support needs, including projects on business and primary sources currently in the field.

Supporting big data research (Summer 2020)

For over ten years Ithaka S+R has successfully developed large-scale research projects to study the research and teaching support needs of faculty, focusing on subjects including art history, agriculture, and indigenous studies. We are now planning a partnership with academic libraries to examine the research support needs of faculty using “big data” and data science methodologies.

University administrations, funders, and the private sector are throwing their weight behind the promise of rapid innovation through big data. New services–ranging from data management planning and dataset acquisition to visualization and database architecture–aim to help scholars stay on the cutting edge of their research fields. The task of preserving accessible and reproducible research code and datasets also demands sustained and coordinated attention. Information science communities are embracing shared principles of data curation, such as making data “FAIR” (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable). Achieving widespread researcher buy-in–and facilitating access to proprietary datasets–remain pressing challenges.

How will the projects work? 

Ithaka S+R will bring together cohorts of 15-20 libraries for each project. These partner libraries will create institutional research teams drawn from library staff, possibly in combination with staff drawn from other centers at their institution. Ithaka S+R’s project staff develop the research instruments and conduct a two-day workshop for all the institutional teams, where we train and guide them to ensure the cohort works together to meet its collective research goals. Following the workshop, the institutional teams conduct interviews with faculty and, with guidance from Ithaka S+R, produce institutional reports on their findings. As a final step, Ithaka S+R publishes a public national report based on an aggregate analysis of the data. Ithaka S+R then will facilitate follow-up dialogue among interested participants to consider possible cross-institutional collaborations and implementation strategies. 

The partnership will enable libraries to

  • Use local and cross-institutional evidence to inform data service design
  • Learn from Ithaka S+R expertise on emerging data practices and research design
  • Build capacity to conduct strategic user research locally
  • Develop relationships with on-campus stakeholders
  • Be part of a network of academic libraries on the cutting edge of data support

How can my library get involved?

We are currently seeking libraries to join Teaching with Data in the Social Sciences and Supporting Big Data Research. If you are interested in your library participating in either project, we welcome expressions of interest. Please contact me (danielle.cooper@ithaka.org) to learn more.