Librarians, data management and listening dogs

23 August, 2012

DCC staff were at the IFLA World Library and Information Congress last week. The conference was vast, welcoming over 4,200 librarians to Helsinki and addressing all manner of library concerns. The programme included a number of sessions relevant to data management on the days we attended. Highlights are provided below.

Cloud computing: its impact on privacy, jurisdiction, security, lawful access, ownership and permanence of data

Clifford Lynch of CNI kicked off proceedings by giving a beginners overview to cloud computing. He explained that the cloud may be fashionable at present but the ideas are nothing new; they go back to the 1960s. Lynch splits cloud computing into two categories - public and private – with three different purposes or types of cloud: 1) storage clouds; 2) compute clouds; and 3) applications as a service. He outlined a number of pros and cons to help people determine whether they should use a cloud or not.


  • You can displace the responsibility for capital investment and planning for this, which is useful if you don’t have sufficient IT skills in-house
  • The scalability of the cloud is great if you have erratic load swings e.g. florists at Valentine’s day. However, it may not be worth paying an ongoing premium to insure against these spikes if you’re willing or able to scramble around and fix the occasional problem whenever there’s an unexpected flurry.
  • Cloud providers offer very professional, robust services and you can write SLAs to pass on responsibility for issues that are hard to deal with yourself


  • Risk of dependency or lock-in, particularly for compute and storage clouds
  • Lack of transparency; it’s hard to know where the different geographic copies are
  • Networks can be bottlenecks, especially for large data. It can be expensive to transfer data in and out, so the cloud could be cost-prohibitive

The other speakers in this session gave equally engaging talks, picking up on privacy on the internet and jurisdiction in the cloud. Christine Runnegar of the Internet Society asked for a show of hands of how many people tick “I agree” boxes without being sure of how their data will be used. We often unknowingly give greater consent than we might like as there’s no other option – if you disagree you can’t proceed. She spoke about the amount of personal information out there on the web that can be linked and correlated, meaning there’s a greater capability to identify people from anonymous datasets.

Patrick Flaherty of Torys LLP then went on to speak about the jurisdictional conundrums with the cloud, making it almost impossible to identify which law applies. He suggested a number of conditions that organisations should try to apply when agreeing contracts but was pessimistic about the chances of being offered anything but the standard terms and conditions, due to the bargaining clout of cloud providers. He pointed to a useful guide from the Canadian government that outlines privacy responsibilities and considerations for cloud computing.

The role of libraries in data curation, access and preservation: an international perspective

There were six papers in the session we presented in. The common thread throughout was the importance of training and skills. Several of the presenters reported on surveys into librarians' capabilities in curation and preservation. A German study presented by Achim Osswald of the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne found that their LIS curriculum focuses on digital preservation rather than research data management. Carol Tenopir of the University of Tennessee presented a DataOne study from the USA, which has led to a two-pronged response in terms of LIS school recruitment: they want to encourage people with discipline knowledge and provide RDM skills. The final paper was by Susan Reilly of LIBER on the recently released ODE study. This found that demand for RDM support was outstripping supply - 50% of the librarians studied have received requests for support to create Data Management Plans but only 13% already provide this. Posters at the conference addressed skills too, for example the work at the University of Massachusetts. They've training graduate students and produced an online data management guide.

Marieke and I presented with Miggie Pickton on Research Data Management at the University of Northampton. Our paper outlined previous work at the University and how we’re continuing to support that through the DCC institutional engagement programme. Reflections were also given on the role and skills of librarians and how many are leading on RDM in the UK.

Later in the week the DCC’s Andrew McHugh spoke about a model for digital preservation repository risk relationships. This introduced an ontology to define a digital library preservation risk profile, developed from a series of institutional audits and evaluations.

It was interesting being at a conference with such a broad remit. Sessions dealt with concerns as fundamental as basic literacy and getting a solid web connection to e-learning, research support and the future of the library. A scheme I particularly liked the sound of was the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ). It’s been shown that dogs can help children who struggle with reading build confidence and improve their skills, as they listen attentively rather than constantly jumping in and correcting. There was even one on photo call at the conference!  

A Reading Education Assistance Dog (READ)








Image credit: Marieke Guy, UKOLN