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Data Diversity is Okay

Posted in UC3

At risk of sounding like a motivational speaker, this is such an exciting time to be involved in science and research.  We are swimming in data and information (yay!), there are exciting software tools available for researchers, librarians, and lay people alike, and the possibilities for discovery seem endless.  Of course, all of this change can be a bit daunting.  How do you handle the data deluge? What software is likely to be around for a while? How do you manage your time effectively in the face of so much technology?

Growing Pains
Just like Kirk Cameron’s choice of hair style, academics and their librarians are going through some growing pains. From

Like many other groups, academic libraries are undergoing some growing pains in the face of the information age. This may be attributed drastic budget cuts, rising costs for journal subscriptions, and the less important role that physical collections play in due to increasing digitization of information.  Researchers are quite content to sit at their laptops and download PDFs from their favorite journals rather than wander the stacks of their local library; they would rather use Google searches to scour the internet for obscure references rather than ask their friendly subject librarian for help in the hunt.

Despite the challenges above, I firmly believe that this is such an exciting time to be working at the interface of libraries, science, and technology.  Many librarians agree with me, including those at UCLA.  Lisa Federer and Jen Weintraub recently put on a great panel at the UCLA library focused on data curation.  I was invited to participate and agreed, which turned out to be an excellent decision.

The panel was called “Data Curation in Action”, and featured four panelists: Chris Johanson, UCLA professor of classics and digital humanities; Tamar Kremer-Sadlik, director of research at the UCLA Center for Everyday Lives of Families (CELF); Paul Conner, the digital laboratory director of CELF; and myself, intended to represent some mix of researchers in science and librarians.

Without droning on about how great the panel was, and how interesting the questions from the audience were, and how wonderful my discussions were with attendees after the panel, I wanted to mention the major thing that I took away: there is so much diverse data being generated by so many different kinds of projects and researchers.  Did I mention that this is an exciting time in the world of information?

Take Tamar and Paul: their project involves following families every day for hours on end, recording video, documenting interactions and locations of family members, taking digital photographs, conducting interviews, and measuring cortisol levels (an indicator for stress).  You should read that sentence again, because that is an enormous diversity of data types, not to mention the volume. Interviews and video are transcribed, quantitative observations are recorded in databases, and there is an intense coding system for labeling images, videos, and audio files.

Now for Chris, who has the ability to say “I am a professor of classics” at dinner parties (I’m jealous).  Chris doesn’t sit about reading old texts and talking about marble statues. Instead he is trying to reconstruct “ephemeral activities in the ancient world”, such as attending a funeral, going to the market, etcetera. He does this using a complex combination of Google Earth, digitized ancient maps, pictures, historical records, and data from excavations of ancient civilizations.  He stole the show at the panel when he demonstrated how researchers are beginning to create virtual worlds in which a visitor can wander around the landscape, just like in a modern day 3D video game.

This is really just a blog post about how much I love my job. I can’t imagine anything more interesting than trying to solve problems and provide assistance for researchers such as Tamar, Paul and Chris.

In case you are not one of the 35 million who have watched it, OK Go has a wonderful video about getting through the tough times associated with the dawning information age (at least that’s my rather nerdy interpretation of this song):


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