- The issue is not, that available training and tools do not support Research Data Management, e.g., , but rather that by the time they find their way to researchers they might already have moved on to more sophisticated methods requiring other tools. It might therefore be necessary to focus on very basic concepts independent of specific tools instead of trying to keep up with the pace of technological change.
- Curators often lack precise understanding of the actual practice of research and consequently risk being ignored by the research community in their daily practice and vice versa A good mutual understanding would be needed to prevent obstacles that can no longer be overcome once research projects have ended, e.g., [21,42,43].
- Research practices strongly depend on a specific research community’s methods, traditions, and standards, limiting the influence of “outsiders” such as curators.
- Researchers face a competitive environment and often have little if any incentives for managing their research data and other research activities, including cooperation among researchers, in such a way that would support curation.
- Total costs (time, resources) of curation may impede digital data curation and even become exorbitantly high.
2. An Intentionally Minimalist Archiving Concept
- Self-containment The main purpose was to ensure the long-term use of the data for research occurring over decades. The archive also needed to be self-contained, i.e., not only observational data and measurements (research data in the narrow sense), but also all involved software such as models, applications, and operating systems were archived. Even hardware was preserved when necessary. Copyright issues in conflict with self-containment were avoided by limiting access to the archive to the research group.
- Archive entries At the end of each project or a well-defined project phase, an archive entry was to be made (Figure 1, AEDescr). A research project was only considered really ended upon the completion of its last archive entry. Each entry comes with a description and is identified by a globally unique title and forms part of the archive. Thus, all of the archive’s meta data could anytime be reconstructed from the archive, also contributing to the self-containment of the archive.
- Meta data The meta data were split into the describing part and the media part (Figure 1, AEDescr vs. AEMedium; illustrative examples in Appendix A.1, Figure A1 vs. Figure A2), where the latter were kept outside the archive to be updated during regular maintenance, e.g., as storage media would age and require copying. Archive entries were only added and were not allowed to change in any way, regardless whether the storage media would in principle allow for overwriting or deletion. Updating of an archive entry would have to be accomplished by rearchiving an updated version. Finally data base software was not used on purpose. All these design choices served to minimize archive maintenance.
- Formats All meta data were only stored in simple ASCII encoded text files, while the actual data were typically archived in original formats. However, most critical parts, e.g., a dissertation text, were also redundantly archived as rtf, plus text files, or spreadsheets containing precious data, again redundantly, such as SYLK, plus text files (for details see Appendix A.1).
- Storage media Access to the individual archive entries depends on the file system in use, which may follow standards or not, depending on the storage media. E.g., magneto-optical disks, favoured due to their expected long lifetime of 50 years, were pragmatically formatted with the then used computer platform, possibly requiring archive maintenance at some point in time by moving affected entries to new media. CDs or DVDs were burnt according to ISO standards.
- Access and use To facilitate the retrieval, a Global Index (Figure 1, red cylinder), i.e., a global collection of archive entry descriptions, was stored redundantly outside the archive on a central file server that every researcher could access. In this ASCII text file all archive entry descriptions, extended by their media descriptions, were accumulated in chronological order. The search for a particular archive entry depends on the searching capabilities of a text editor or a command line tool such as grep. Since the primary role of the Systems Ecology Archive was to enable the internal use of data for research purposes, access was restricted to research team members only.
3. Handling of Research Data
4. Publishing and Literature Management
4.1. Scholarly Publishing
4.2. Literature Management
- each participant can be globally uniquely denoted (e.g., by using the ORCID unique researcher identification.
- each publication is also globally uniquely denoted by a main key (e.g., DOI) within the distributed data base system that also identifies the owner
- all files, e.g., PDFs, associated with a given publication are named so that the file name contains the main key or allows to derive the main key to be derived
5. Theory and Models
6. General Discussion and Conclusions
Conflicts of Interest
Appendix A.1. Details on Archiving Concept of Terrestrial Systems Ecology Group
- Discuss the planned entry with the group member responsible for archiving, as well as the group leader as appropriate. Is the moment right, what should be included, what was or will be archived elsewhere?
- Prepare archive entry by moving and preparing all elements to be archived to a single folder as well as by sorting and deleting obsolete or redundant files. This step is crucial as it is where critical files are possibly transformed into file formats with a longer life expectancy (e.g., Word documents –> rtf, text, or spreadsheets –> SYLK files). Despite the principle of avoiding redundancy, the latter redundancy is intentional as it should help to maximize the archive’s long-term use. To this end additional copies are to be saved from critical documents that contain less information than their original, e.g., by force-saving a Word document in form of a plain text file hereby losing all formatting information. Thus a scientific article, if, e.g., written with Word, would be saved into the archive entry three times: (i) binary Word file (doc/docx), (ii) rtf (text file with formatting information), (iii) plain text file (text file without any formatting information). Finally to ensure reuse, e.g., for the purpose of an erratum writing or a continuation of the research, all original master files used in the preparation of figures or tables, e.g., statistical procedures such as R scripts, are included in the archive entry when archiving a scientific article, despite the publication of the latter. E.g., if using , all -files needed as input for the full typesetting enter the archive in their original form in addition to the published PDF. The archive entry is only considered ready when procedures such as typesetting can be performed using the files in the archive. Common parts, e.g., modelling and simulation software, shared by many researchers can be left out, but such dependencies need to be discussed within the research team to ensure their parallel archiving is warranted.
- Create meta data, i.e., the archive entry description, for the archive entry (Figure A1). Each entry has to contain information regarding project title, version, list of parts, authors, description of the content, handling (which comprises also which software and/or hardware is necessary to read the data), general remarks, whether the project is part of a sub-project and has any cross-references, the archivist and creation date.
- Add the archive entry description (Figure A1) to the archive entry itself. Optionally—particularly useful in case of large and complex archive entries—as the very last step affecting the archives content, some file listing tools can be used to scan the entire archive entry and add a detailed and exhaustive file list part to the archive entry, again in form of a text file.
- Decide on the type and number of storage media required, e.g., magneto-optical (MO) disks, CDs, or DVDs, typically determined by the size of the archive entry. Use disks, e.g., MO disks, previously used if not yet full and the entry fits on it. Use multiple disks, e.g., DVDs, if the archive entry is too large to fit on a single disk (n:n relationship).
- Write the media description on the archive entry to the separate small text file. These meta data describe the storage media, location and name of the media (Figure A2).
- Save the archive entry to the archives twice. Once the above steps are completed to the satisfaction of the peer responsible for archiving, save the ready archive entry by copying twice the entire file system branch to the target storage media. Both copies must be identical and made to the same media, e.g., MO disk, CD, or DVD.
- Append the archive entry description to the global index stored on a central file server (Figure 1).
- Append the archive entry’s media description to the global index stored on a central file server. The global index now contains all meta data allowing access to any archive entry (Figure 1).
- Optionally store the entry’s media description to a separate, also centrally stored media index tabulating all available archive media. That index is not critical (not shown in Figure 1) and only informs the archivist when periodic maintenance is due, i.e., which parts of the archive should be copied to new media as media ages and which media descriptions need updating.
- Finally, store the archive media, e.g., two MO-disks, two CDs, or two DVDs, in two separate locations, i.e., in a safe and an archival cabinet in another building.
Appendix A.2. Reference Management
Appendix A.3. Modelling and Simulation
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