The University Libraries provides expertise in data planning, management, and publishing to fuel discovery and future research. Recently, the library launched a new version of its research data repository platform, powered by Figshare. 

Accessible from anywhere, Figshare is a cloud-based platform for storing, sharing, and citing research data. Virginia Tech researchers can upload their research data and receive a digital object identifier (DOI) for citing the data in publications and meet sponsor requirements for openly available data. Data uploaded to the Virginia Tech research data repository is discoverable in search engines, including Google Scholar and Google Dataset Search. Engagement and impact of the research can be tracked through views, downloads, citations, and Altmetric usage tracking.  

“The University Libraries has a long history of and expertise in preserving and providing access to information,” said Jon Petters, University Libraries assistant director of data management and curation services. “Helping Virginia Tech researchers publicly share data and other outputs fits neatly within this scope of work.”

The reason the University Libraries chose the Figshare platform for the university’s data repository is because it makes it easy to upload and publish data. Figshare provides well-written guidance on how to work within the system, which is linked on the Virginia Tech data repository guide. Faculty and students can use this guide to work within the system or contact the data services team to ask for help.

Nina Stark, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and Anthony and Catherine Moraco Fellow in the College of Engineering , and her graduate students have published their raw and processed data in the repository. They also published how they processed the data.

Nina Stark and students conduct field research on a sandy beach.
Nina Stark, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and Anthony and Catherine Moraco Fellow in the College of Engineering, and her students, Abby Burke, Casey Peloquin, and Julie Paprocki, conduct field research. Photo courtesy of Nina Stark.

“Publishing and curation of data is difficult and we — my research group — are not experts in it,” said Stark. “Therefore, I appreciate the support from the University Libraries, that they work with us to get this done. It makes it easier for us, and it makes my life easier in a way that I can send students to them. I know the students will be supported, and we will end up with a well-curated data product.”

Stark believes that sharing knowledge and data within research communities propels advancement of knowledge forward. “I also believe that sharing data openly fosters trust, communication, and collaboration between researchers as well as with stakeholders and the public,” said Stark. “I also increase my visibility as a researcher through data publications.”

Ashley Dayer, assistant professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and the Environment and an affiliate of the Global Change Center and the Center for Coastal Studies, both housed in Fralin Life Sciences Institute, said published data allows other researchers to build on her research. The University Libraries data services team helps faculty share data appropriately when it involves human subjects, especially at an individual level.

“Transparency is a key aspect of open data – so others can replicate our research or do additional analyses. Also there’s the potential for the responses to our research survey to become a part of other new studies, maximizing the benefits of the time survey respondents spent responding to the survey without taking their time again,” said Dayer. “While social science has been slower to move to open data, more and more journals and funders are recognizing the benefits and that it can be done.”

Researchers standing under trees.
Ashley Dayer, assistant professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and the Environment and an affiliate of the Global Change Center and the Center for Coastal Studies, conducts field research. Photo courtesy of the College of Natural Resources and Environment, Virginia Tech.

A benefit of publishing data in the data repository with its own digital object identifier (DOI) is the ability to track usage metrics. 

“I’ve yet to be made aware of any use of my dataset but I can track usage metrics and see that the data has been downloaded,” said Dayer. “I hope in the future to see it cited elsewhere, which is a benefit of it having its own DOI.”

The University Libraries not only helps Virginia Tech researchers publish data openly, but collaborates with partners across the globe to help others do the same. One recent project is the Guide to Accelerate Public Access to Research Data. This Association of American Universities and Association of Public and Land Grant Universities project was the result of work funded by the National Science Foundation. University Libraries Dean Tyler Walters served on the project’s steering committee and helped advance the initiative.

The guide discusses framing a campus initiative to accelerate public access to research data, making priorities visible, establishing a plan, and considering key implementation areas. During the AAU/APLU Advancing Public Access to Research Data meeting on May 5, 2021, Walters presented how Virginia Tech completed the process outlined in the guide. 

“As a whole, when more researchers publicly share their data,” explained Petters, “non-researchers, such as policymakers and journalists, can have more confidence in the integrity of research results.” 

By Ann Brown