Office studies data management

From telescope images to gene sequences, Yale researchers produce tens of thousands of gigabytes of digital data each year that can further research if properly managed, shared, and preserved — or it can vanish into cyberspace if neglected, Office of Digital Assets and Infrastructure Director Meg Bellinger said.

To help Yale faculty members better manage their digital data, the Office of Digital Assets and Infrastructure formed a committee, which plans to release a report of their findings by next week, to conduct interviews with 34 Yale researchers in the natural sciences. The report will include recommendations for how the University can help researchers manage their digital data, although some of the recommendations have been scaled back due to funding and staff cuts, Bellinger said.

Meg Bellinger, the director of the Office of Digital Assets and Infrastructure, believes that Yale needs to better manage its digital data.
Meg Bellinger, the director of the Office of Digital Assets and Infrastructure, believes that Yale needs to better manage its digital data.
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“Because of the economic downturn, our ambitions have been significantly checked in,” Bellinger said.

Among the items stalled are plans to build a legal consultation center, which could be housed at the West Campus, where researchers can get advice on copyright laws and their intellectual property rights, Bellinger said.

The report is one of the first steps taken by the Office of Digital Assets and Infrastructure, founded in the fall of 2008, said Ann Green, the co-chair of the report committee, which includes representatives from the office, Yale Information Technology Services and Yale’s libraries. The Office of Digital Assets and Infrastructure plans to conduct further interviews with a larger number of researchers, which may also include graduate students, she added.

“Currently, Yale does not have an overall plan for managing digital content, such as images, data sets and audio files,” Green said.

In their interviews, many researchers voiced their needs for more advice on managing data from its creation to its collection, Bellinger said. Though there have been initiatives to address Yale’s formal collections in its libraries and museums, the University has yet to formally organize is informal data collections, such as research data faculty members produce, Bellinger said.

Since research data ranges from microscopic images of cells to psychology surveys, Green said the ways Yale faculty analyze, store and share data can vary greatly. In biology, for example, the sequencing of genes and proteins creates a large amount of data that requires new software to take advantage of existing hardware’s storage capacity, said Medical School professor Kei-Hoi Cheung, who is involved in the Yale Center of Medical Informatics, which works to improve the use of computers in biomedical research. The Office of Digital Assets of Infrastructure is working on developing software to allow researchers to select what data they want to preserve and for how long, Green said, but the pace and size of this project has been cut back.

“The more we know about the specifics, the better we can come up with common solutions and common strategies,” Green said.

The Office of Digital Assets and Infrastructure has been collaborating with the Peabody Museum of Natural History, the Yale Office of Digital Dissemination and the Yale University Press on creating and managing digital content.

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