October 5, 2009

Sheridan Libraries awarded $20 million NSF grant

The Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries have been awarded $20 million by the National Science Foundation to build a data research infrastructure for the management of the ever-increasing amounts of digital information created for teaching and research. The five-year grant, announced Oct. 1, was one of two awarded by the NSF for what is being called “data curation.”

The project, known as the Data Conservancy, involves several institutions, with Johns Hopkins serving as the lead and Sayeed Choudhury, the Hodson Director of the Digital Research and Curation Center and associate dean of university libraries at Johns Hopkins, as the principal investigator. In addition, seven Johns Hopkins faculty members are associated with the Data Conservancy: from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Alexander Szalay, Bruce Marsh and Katalin Szlavecz; from the Whiting School of Engineering, Randal Burns, Charles Meneveau and Andreas Terzis; and from the School of Medicine, Jef Boeke. The Johns Hopkins–led project is part of a larger $100 million NSF effort to ensure preservation and curation of engineering and science data.

Beginning with the life, earth and social sciences, project members will develop a framework to more fully understand data practices currently in use and to arrive at a model for curation that allows ease of access both within and across disciplines.

“Data curation is not an end but a means,” Choudhury said. “Science and engineering research and education are increasingly digital and data-intensive, which means that new management structures and technologies will be critical to accommodate the diversity, size and complexity of current and future data sets and streams. Our ultimate goal is to support new ways of inquiry and learning. The potential for the sharing and application of data across disciplines is incredible. But it’s not enough to simply discover data; you need to be able to access it and be assured it will remain available.”

“We are thrilled to be heading this initiative,” said Winston Tabb, Sheridan Dean of University Libraries and Museums at Johns Hopkins. “So much information is now ‘born digital’ that efforts like this are vital for the future of scholarship.”

The Data Conservancy grant represents one of the first awards related to the Institute of Data Intensive Engineering and Science, a collaboration between the Krieger and Whiting schools and the Sheridan Libraries.

Choudhury noted that although the impetus for the Data Conservancy was the need for large-scale digital data management in the science community, its applications extend to the social sciences and humanities as well.

“The pioneering work on the Roman de la Rose is a perfect example,” he said. A joint project of the Sheridan Libraries and the Bibliotheque nationale de France, the Roman de la Rose Digital Library is creating a digital repository of all known manuscript copies of the medieval French poem for study by scholars worldwide.

In addition to the $20 million grant announced Oct. 1, the libraries have received a $300,000 grant from NSF to study the feasibility of developing, operating and sustaining an open-access repository of articles from NSF-sponsored research. Libraries staff will work with colleagues from the Council on Library and Information Resources and the University of Michigan Libraries to explore the potential for the development of a repository (or set of repositories) similar to PubMedCentral, the open-access repository that features articles from NIH-sponsored research. This grant for the feasibility study will allow Choudhury’s group to evaluate how to integrate activities under the framework of the Data Conservancy and will result in a set of recommendations for NSF regarding an open-access repository.

The Sheridan Libraries encompass the Milton S. Eisenhower Library and its collections at the Albert D. Hutzler Reading Room in Gilman Hall on the Homewood campus, the John Work Garrett Library at Evergreen Museum & Library and the George Peabody Library in Mount Vernon. Together these collections provide the major research library resources for the university. The mission of the Sheridan Libraries is to advance research and teaching by providing information resources, instruction and services. The libraries were rededicated in 1998 to reflect the extraordinary generosity of R. Champlin and Debbie Sheridan.