Are you familiar with the abbreviations up there in the title? Some readers will know all of them quite well. And at the mdw, we even have true experts—such as David M. Weigl, who works with the Music Encoding Initiative (MEI)—who are devoted to the sustainable exchange and use of sheet music as well as other forms of musical notation. But even though the COVID era has seen the increased employment of information technologies amidst a general trend toward digitisation in all areas of life, including research, most people probably know these abbreviations only in a very general way. And if you’re completely unfamiliar with the abbreviations in the title, then you’re still in quite good company—since universities haven’t been able to accumulate the requisite competencies as fast as digitisation has been advancing.1
At the mdw, the core data management system for the sustainable storage and provision of digital media objects is the mdwRepository. The mdwRespository is listed by the internationally recognised Registry of Research Data Repositories (re3data.org) and offers various research data management functionalities that currently include services for digital archives and collections as well as publication services (pub.mdw and mdwPress).
Researchers are interested primarily in using data, for example doing full-text searches in interview series or obtaining quick and easy access to rare musical editions and manuscripts, and it’s often not clear right away just what this entails behind the scenes. Textual information might be encoded in the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) data format with the actual musical notation in MEI format, both of which are based on XML (Extensible Markup Language). But as soon as one sets out to produce content on one’s own, a deeper understanding of the involved formats—XML and all the rest—becomes necessary. Because then, objects to be presented on the Internet (texts, images, videos, tables showing the results of measurements, etc.) can be added and put to use much faster and in better quality without having to leave one’s workspace. What’s more, data holdings can be successively worked over and expanded even by multiple different research groups—as is the case with the holdings of the Arnold Schoenberg Archive, which are currently being expanded thanks to the new FWF-sponsored project at the Center for Research on Arnold Schönberg and the Viennese School at the Department of Musicology and Performance Studies (IMI).2
In this regard, it is important to distinguish between methods and modes of data production, with the modes having to do with the types of data being created—e.g., video and audio recordings—and the methods being applied according to the standards and rules of individual disciplines—e.g., qualitative interviews or heart rate measurements.3 The relationships between methods and modes of data production can only be set up by experts in their respective fields, who then also make them visible (in particular via the data descriptions known as “metadata”).
Modes of data production bring with them new tasks, structures, and standards in both research and research management. Some of these, such as classifications and taxonomies, are discipline-specific. Others are universally valid—such as the use of persistent identifiers for digital objects like the Digital Object Identifier (DOI), which allows data to be found and cited in the first place, and the implementation of structured data management plans (DMP) that support researchers with a better overview of technical, legal, and ethical aspects while also serving to document data management activities. And in order to provide researchers with specialised support, research institutions are also building up new competencies that are generally discussed under the heading of “data stewardship”.
At the mdw, work in these new areas has already commenced with the initial aim of combining the University’s activity recording system with a current research information system (CRIS), resulting new functionalities. At the University, centralised support is being offered above all by the Information Technology Department (ZID) and by the Office of Research Support, as well as by the University Library where publication services are concerned. And there are also ideas for the decentralised establishment of “data stewards” at individual departments and organisational units. After all, the better data can be processed and documented, the better the chances they have of remaining findable and usable over the long term—including, but not only, by and for the producers of the data themselves.
- According to a July 2021 report published by the European University Association (EUA), more than half of the European universities that they surveyed indicated that their research data competencies are either non-existent or insufficient (From principles to practices: Open Science at Europe’s universities, 2020–2021, EUA Open Science Survey results).
- Cf. Kowalczyk, Stacy T.: Modelling the Digital Research Data Lifecycle. In: International Journal of Digital Curation, Vol. 12 No. 2 (2017), p. 341. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2218/ijdc.v12i2.429