The following post was written by an RDAP 2021 Summit Scholarship recipient. Scholarships were prioritized for those from under-represented groups, first-time RDAP attendees, early career professionals, and current students. Each recipient was asked to write a brief post on their conference experience.
This year’s RDAP Summit introduced me to perspectives on data that I had not considered before. In addition to seeing data management put to action in the development of amazing projects, I gained a deeper understanding of how the retention, reproduction, and presentation of data can have profound social impact. As a newcomer to RDM, these insights were very significant for me.
Just last September, I started in a new job where one of my responsibilities is teaching about RDM and assisting researchers in applying best practices. Although I had a general notion of what data management involves, I knew I had a lot to learn. I’m sure many people reading this found themselves in a similar position at some point. Needless to say, it can be a bit daunting.
Luckily, as has been my experience in other areas of librarianship, I discovered a very collaborative community of folks who work with RDM and openly share their knowledge. I quickly found libguides, videos, online courses, journals, and blogs that helped me get up to speed. At one point, my supervisor told me about the RDAP Summit and suggested I attend.
The Summit was everything I expected and much more. The opening keynote by Dr. Tonia Sutherland was an absolute eye-opener. I had not considered the concept of people’s digital remains and how contested this subject can be, particularly in highly-publicized tragedies like the murder of Michael Brown. In cases like this one, lives and bodies quickly become commodified for mass consumption, with the most affected parties having little or no say in the issue.
I was also moved by Dr. Sutherland’s argument in favor of adopting a critical mindset when digitizing historical sources, such as documents related to slavery, in order to not repeat the dehumanization that often characterized previous recording practices. Instead of simply copying old records to digital media, we can give new meaning to these documents. We can find ways to emphasize the human stories frequently silenced by archival methods of the past.
This keynote talk really broadened my conception of what can be considered data in our digital times. It reminded me that in addition to working with the data itself, it is important to think about the implications of who maintains control over it and how it is ultimately disseminated.
There were many other talks that I found tremendously enriching. I loved Research as Design-Design as Research by Cinthya Ippoliti and Kay Bjornen because it made me think about ways to engage more closely with researchers at my institution in order to design RDM services that really work for them. Also, I was blown away by Radical Change for RDM in Canada – Stakeholders, Services, and Synergies. It’s very inspiring to learn about a project that combines the work of so many people plus the national government in an effort to make data more open and accessible.
I would encourage anyone new to data management to consider joining RDAP. In particular, I would encourage other Latinx people like me to tell our colleagues in Latin America and the Caribbean about the organization. In many of our institutions, RDM is still a relatively recent topic. When you’re beginning to learn about any subject, it always feels good to have access to a community. From my experience in the Summit, I think RDAP is a great place to find that welcoming community feel and gain knowledge about all aspects of working with data.
José J. Morales-Benítez
University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez