Gavia Libraria

Opportunity knocketh but once

The Loon got an email the other day about LabArchives and BioMed Central’s new collaboration around datasets considered supplementary to a journal article.

(When, the Loon wonders, will the poles of the “supplementary” relationship reverse? It might be less time than she might guess…)

The emailer, a librarian, was discontented. She didn’t like the idea of these data in the hands of a commercial entity.

The Loon took a little swim before answering that email, because her first instinct was to squawk well, libraries apparently can’t be arsed to collect data systematically, so where are the data supposed to go, pray?

This response is, of course, partly unfair; the Loon apologizes to Cornell and Harvard and Purdue and Stanford and the other places taking serious stabs at this problem. Mostly, though, it’s not unfair. Most libraries—most research libraries—most ARL libraries—aren’t touching data-archiving problems with a ten-foot pole. The Loon doesn’t think we libraries are entitled to critique a market approach to data archiving until we’re willing to offer an alternative.

Anyway, the trajectory of public-facing, public-spirited services in libraries suggests that LabArchives (and its ilk, among which the Loon would include DataDryad) could well be more economically viable (the Loon hates the word “sustainable”) than library-based services. Not even Cornell was public-spirited enough to singlehandedly run arXiv forever… and most ARLs aren’t anywhere near as public-spirited as Cornell.

Somebody’s got to do this work. If libraries and librarians won’t step up, the work will get done without us… and we’ll have fumbled yet another chance to expand the boundaries of our professions. As Sondheim wrote, “Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor.”

One thought on “Opportunity knocketh but once

  1. Earl Beutler

    By way of introduction (and full disclosure), I am the co-founder and President and CEO of LabArchives, LLC (previously the CEO and founder of both RefWorks and Research Information Systems).

    I enjoyed your perspective and wanted to comment about LabArchives’ role in data archiving. While we are definitely a commercial organization, archiving and sharing of data is effectively a “by-product” of our core product, which is a tool for the storage, organization, sharing, and publishing of data. We provide a mechanism by which scientists (and others) can manage their data for a reasonable annual fee and, at the same time, share selected data (or all data) with their colleagues and the public. Thus, we providing a permanent business model by which the scientists themselves indirectly fund the publication of data sets while, at the same reaping other personal benefits from employing their software. This is a “viable” model which, we believe, serves as an excellent partnership between the academic community and commercial organizations.

    In closing, I might point out that the LabArchives “repository” offers a number of benefits over more traditional repositories. Most importantly, LabArchives is “dynamic”, in that it enables users to publish a data set at a point in time, but may also allow readers to see older and/or new versions of these data. Additionally, LabArchives provides an in-context view of data. Finally, LabArchives includes viewers for many common and proprietary file types, helping to provide a “Rosetta Stone” to the problems of reusing data.