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The very long view — OITP director speaks to National Academy of Sciences

Part of the mission of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) is to focus on the very long term. Thus, one of our responsibilities is to engage the research community.

Last week, I had the pleasure of making a presentation at the National Academy of Sciences–specifically at its Board on Research Data and Information. The Board’s usual center of gravity is the research community and the enormous data sets typically associated with the sciences. So it is safe to say that they don’t think about ALA on a daily basis. But they are open to ideas for possible collaboration, cooperation, and communication, which was the rationale for my presence.

My first topic focused on increasing the engagement (from more interactive services to producing information) with library users, building on libraries’ traditional role in information access. Are there ways to open up access to research data to the benefit of the population at large? Libraries are great venues for such engagement and in fact could serve as de facto experiment stations for the research community.  Does anyone know of good examples from current practice–at which libraries host interesting applications or services that involve research data, particularly on an ongoing basis (as opposed to special projects)? I am looking for a few good examples.

In the era of decentralized technology and networks, “research data” has a more expansive meaning.  Think about, for example, the “hidden collections” of local artifacts that you can find at pretty much any library. Collectively, especially if they can be digitized (the subject of a recent OITP publication), such collections represent an important resource for research. Or consider community blogs that could be curated by local libraries for the long run–another potential resource for research data.

In the past decade, the library community–and the nation at large–has invested significant resources in broadband. By now, most of us appreciate the importance of high-speed broadband for enabling effective library service. The acronyms are many, some very familiar, others more obscure:  BTOP, BIP, NTIA, RUS, FCC, USAC, E-rate, USF, NBP, SHLB, US IGNITE, GIG-U, US UCAN, and others. We are all grateful for the efforts to improve broadband capabilities and understand that the need continues.

However, looking ahead into the next decade, what about data?  And especially the rich sources of research-oriented data that have been collected as well as those that will or could be collected?  Surely commercial data and information services will evolve and be available, driven by ever-improving networks and the lure of profit. But what of non-commercial data and information services? Isn’t it time to develop a national initiative to ensure that future networks are navigated by a true diversity of data and information, not just bits motivated by sales revenue or advertising appeal?

Finally, we talked about common public policy interests.  Not surprisingly, there are a number of threads and active work in common, from the Google Book Search lawsuit to happenings at the World Intellectual Property Organization. There are indeed many ways to work together to advance our common interests.

While preparing for the upcoming ALA Annual Conference, I am also contemplating whether this discussion has any legs. To be continued…

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Alan Inouye

Alan S. Inouye is the director of ALA's Office for Information Technology Policy. Previously, he was the coordinator of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee in the Executive Office of the President and a study director at the National Academy of Sciences. Alan completed his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley.

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