Book Reviews

Robin Rice and John Southall. The Data Librarian’s Handbook. London: Facet Publishing, 2017. 192p. Paper, $79.99 (ISBN: 978-1-78330-047-1).

Book cover for The Data Librarian’s Handbook

The Data Librarian’s Handbook is an indispensable read for those who find themselves at a point of intersection with topics in data librarianship. The authors, Robin Rice, Data Librarian at EDINA and Data Library at the University of Edinburgh, and John Southall, Data Librarian at Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford, bring many years of experience to this title. While they have both built careers in the United Kingdom, they take great care in highlighting international examples from the United States, Canada, and Australia in their work.

The handbook offers exceptional grounding and orientation for the novice, be he or she a student or a professional seeking new areas of focus. The organization of the book is logical and easy to follow; it begins with a longitudinal look at data librarianship, including the origins of data libraries and data archives in the 1960s and 1970s, followed by an examination of drivers that have shaped the field over the decades. The reader is then eased into data librarianship with the introduction of key terminologies and misconceptions followed by an exploration of familiar topics such as intellectual property, metadata, data citation, data literacy, data reference, and collection building.

Instructors will be grateful for the completeness and interchangeable structure of the chapters, which are easily assigned as discrete and separate units. They will also value the “Key take-away points” and “Reflective questions” sections that bring each chapter to a close. Similarly, an administrator wishing to consult the handbook to inform local policy and planning will be grateful for the detailed subchapter headings, as well as the integration of international case studies and relevant toolkits to inform local decision making.

Those with years of praxis from which to draw upon will likely find the book an affirming read, encountering pockets of wisdom to add to their repertoire. In particular, the book offers an excellent introduction to research data management (RDM), devoting two full chapters directly to the topic, which covers research data management services, plans, and policy frameworks. Drawing on the authors’ collective experience, readers will be equipped with starting points for assessing institutional preparedness for RDM. They will also be able to articulate the librarian’s role in RDM and will have strategies at the ready for building support and ultimately passing an RDM policy. This ample section is supplemented by chapters offering a grounding in data repositories, advice on how to address issues pertaining to sensitive data, and a cultural understanding of disciplinary attitudes toward data sharing in the social sciences, sciences, and the arts and humanities, all of which are very germane to professionals seeking to advance RDM at their respective institutions.

Regardless of audience, it quickly becomes apparent that the authors speak authentically from years in the trenches. Readers seeking to expand their areas of expertise will find themselves very much at home and in alignment with the core values and strategies presented. As an example, the final chapter reaffirms open scholarship and open science as key drivers advancing the field of data. The collective wisdom of the authors permeates the work, offering in many cases practical talking points for those finding themselves in very realistic situations where stakeholders are in need of convincing.

While much has been packed into this volume, I did find the coverage pertaining to rights management to be somewhat sparse. Perhaps this was a deliberate effort to ensure the book’s relevance to an international audience, yet it is odd that intellectual property rights are discussed without a complementary section expanding on open licensing options for data. Where an entire chapter is invested to equip the reader with sensitivity toward discipline-specific attitudes toward sharing, open licensing is afforded a single page and is devoted to a recounting of the rise of the copyleft movement. I would argue that a discussion of popular data licenses and their applications would offer added value to the book, as questions about licensing will inevitably come up for the practicing data librarian.

A future edition would also benefit from expanded treatment on the topic of metadata, which in many cases offers an avenue of engagement with the campus and has benefited from numerous openly available learning modules. Similarly, a chapter discussing data curation practices would also be very welcome; it could showcase some of the institutional partnerships that are advancing collaboration in this area.

On the whole, however, suggestions for improvement would likely expand this book beyond the ease and simplicity of the handbook format. Essentially, it is best considered a primer for the field, laying out a breadth of topics that invite the intrepid reader to further their research to acquire more detailed and specialized knowledge. Regardless, readers engaging with the handbook will be richly rewarded, gleaning an understanding of data as a first-class research object, in need of corresponding dedicated attention. We are well advised to heed the call of the authors to champion data librarianship in light of the increasingly data-driven research landscape and to expand the reach of the library beyond the provision of support, embracing an ultimate trajectory of research partnership and collaboration.—Andrea Kosavic, York University

Copyright Andrea Kosavic

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