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Virginia Tech’s new data repository helps researchers share data

August 18, 2016

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Virginia Tech researchers gathered data on rural water supply methods in Nampula, Mozambique, to improve sustainable access to clean water. That data, along with other Virginia Tech research, will be available to the public in Virginia Tech's new open data repository.

Researchers in need of space to store, preserve, and share data have a new option available: VTechData, Virginia Tech’s new data repository.

At some point in their careers, researchers need a place to securely store their data, whether they have to comply with funding requirements or want a sustainable place to share their data in the future. VTechData addresses these needs by providing faculty, staff, and students with a platform for openly publishing data.

“The point of curating data is to make sure that research is available in the long-term, not just in the actual article or journal,” said Andi Ogier, associate director of data services for the University Libraries. “Institutionally based archives like VTechData that people can use in the future allow data to be open, available, and usable for the long-term.”

Many funding agencies, including one of Virginia Tech’s biggest funding sources, the National Science Foundation, are requiring researchers to have data-management plans that make the data available to the public — and increasingly often they want researchers to have institutionally supported data management for sustainability reasons. Hosted by Virginia Tech’s University Libraries, VTechData will help the university’s researchers easily comply with this requirement.

Ralph Hall, associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs, recently added data from a joint project with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) into VTechData. The project to evaluate a rural water supply activity in Nampula, Mozambique, provides important information for countless areas of study: economics, sociology and gender roles, water and resource management, water sanitation, and health sciences, to name a few. Open access to the data is critical not only for research, but also for government planning.

“The MCC currently uploads publicly releasable data from their impact evaluations to their website, but there is no guarantee that these data will be available over the long term,” explained Hall. “But having data in VTechData means it’s in a library network and it will be there as long as that library network exists. That’s really critical.”

Hall also noted the advantage of using a repository for teaching or working with other researchers. Before, students may have had to search for data sets, possibly using slightly different data or outdated links. VTechData provides a digital object identifier (DOI), a permanent link used to identify content and create a persistent space for content on the internet.

“With a DOI, you can direct people to that place and say, 'Download these files,' and you know they’re all downloading the same files,” said Hall. “A common set of data that students can work from for an assignment is a really valuable thing.”

The data repository was also developed with openness and the dissemination of new knowledge in mind, accompanying the current open research repository, VTechWorks, which already provides open access to Virginia Tech research. A condition of adding data to VTechData is that researchers must allow it to be available to the public, at least after a certain period of time.

“Virginia Tech is a land-grant university, and we want to get as much information as we can out to the public and to taxpayers who’ve helped fund research,” said Ogier.

Not only is providing access to data a priority, but it enhances the broader research community. The easier data is to evaluate and reuse, the simpler it is for researchers to verify others’ results and understand what has already been tested in their fields. Open data repositories therefore allow researchers to spend less time pursuing false leads and more time creating new knowledge.

Many existing open repositories focus on a certain area, but institutional data repositories house all data created by a university. VTechData supports access to data sets produced by all areas at Virginia Tech, allowing researchers from diverse disciplines to see each other’s data and supporting the university’s interdisciplinary work.

“Bringing together data sets across disciplines supports interdisciplinary ways of thinking about the human experience and large-scale societal problems,” said Julie Speer, associate dean of research and informatics for the University Libraries. “We look forward to seeing how members of the Virginia Tech community use the new repository service to learn together and document and share their research.”

Researchers interested in submitting data should visit VTechData. For help submitting data or preparing it for the repository, contact Shane Coleman at 540-231-8665.

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