Perhaps the starting point for any discussion about libraries and research data is to ask whether managing data is actually a job for university libraries. The answer to this question is ‘yes and no’. ‘Yes’, in the sense that data from academic research projects represents an integral part of the global research knowledge base, and so managing it should be a natural extension of the university library's current role in providing access to the published part of that knowledge base. ‘No’, because the scale of the challenge in terms of infrastructure, skills and culture change requires concerted action by a range of stakeholders, and not just university libraries.
This assessment, from the perspective of the United Kingdom (UK) in 2009, is not a prescription for inaction on the part of university libraries, however. On the contrary, libraries have a key role to play in developing both the capability and the capacity of the higher education sector to manage research data assets. Some of them are already doing so; and, as for the rest of us, we need to take steps to understand the landscape even if we lack the resources to make immediate progress locally.
As with any emerging area, the management of research data is still evolving. In this chapter, by ‘research data management’ we mean the storage, curation and preservation of, and provision of continuing access to, digital research data – in other words, most of the processes at the centre of the Digital Curation Centre (DCC)'s Curation Lifecycle Model, as well as in the lower half of the outer circle (Figure 9.1). Perhaps more simply, this is not just about the storage of data, which is how the subject is sometimes represented and how the requirement to ‘do something’ about research data is often manifested locally.
It's worth taking a little time to reflect on how the management of research data sits alongside the other relationships that the modern university library has with its academic community. We'll then consider what the drivers are for investing time and effort in managing research data, before looking in more detail at what contribution university libraries can and should be making.