Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Data Librarians or eresearch analysts

There’s a quasi meme going around at the moment that as libraries increasingly become portals for online resources and scholarly publication (and data publication) moves online that librarians will morph into data librarians.

You can see the logic in this one. Librarians know about citation, they know about discovery, and they know about access to electronic resources, so it would be very stupid to say that they don’t have a role to play.

What, of course they tend not to know about is sordid stuff like storage architectures, migration strategies, file formats, backup and the rest. That’s the province of information technology, and equally it would be stupid not to say that they have a role, and indeed with harvesting and handling of data , a greater role.

So why does the meme focus on librarians and not IT geeks?

Well there could be a variety of reasons.

Twenty of thirty years ago IT people were generalists - there was little formal training other than some vendor specific courses, and most people taught themselves. There was also a plethora of competing solutions, so a lot of time was spent giving advice and helping researchers choose suitable hardware and software. (yes, there were always some men (and they were usually men) who wore suits and talked about COBOL and made sure everyone got paid on the right day, but we’re not talking about them, even though they are still with us, except these days it’s Cognos)

If you had looked at any university computer centre in the nieties you would have found people in a support/advisory/enabling role. Some may have been old fashioned applications programmers who learned new tricks, and some may have been people like me who’d started out doing something else but who’d ended up in support because they were good at it.

Nowadays these people are a rarity. The older ones have retired, and there’s no clear replacement cohort.

Why? because in the nineties IT changed and it became, in the main a microsoft based mono culture, highly technical and looking for skills in complex products such as Active Directory, Exchange, Sharepoint and the rest, with the result that the culture changed - you can see this in any mixed windows and unix shop - the unix staff tend to be older, sometimes scruffier, and are more diverse, and have odd hobbies. The Windows staff tend to be younger, more focused, and just abit more corporate in their manner.

This isn’t universal, but I’m sure that if you know your data centres you’ll recognise the stereotypes.

The consequece of the change was a hollowing out of IT to concentrate on service delivery rather than support - something which brought efficiencies and may have made achieving kpi’s easier, but along the way engagement was lost between IT staff and researchers - and this enegagement has been lost for long enough now that people have forgotten that it existed.

So, as a consequence, the focus is on librarians becoming data specialists, in the main because they are perceievd in beineg more engaged with the research faculty. However this does neglect the need for quite a lot of formal IT technical knowledge to provide informed advice and discuss options - perhaps what we need is is a second meme on building technical engagement between IT staff and researchers …

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