The Data Repository Community Needs To Take Certification Seriously

An editorial in the 2015/01/02 issue of Science notes that they will be identifying data repositories to promote among its authors and readers this year. The selection criteria mentioned include repositories that “are well managed, have long-term support, and are responsive to community needs.

Up to this point, many librarians have been concerned about publishers establishing their own data repositories and then charging for access to these collections of research data. This recent Science editorial presents a new potential concern regarding publisher engagement in research data management. Might a publisher’s endorsement of a data repository be construed as certification for that repository? Will publishers end up setting a de facto bar for trusted status of data repositories? What will be the implications for domain or local data repositories outside Science’s scope? These are topics needing the attention of the data repository community now.

I see the value of journals being able to recommend data repositories to authors who might be unaware of the choices available to them. However, in the absence of a widely supported and independent certification process, the data repository community runs the risk of journals conducting assessments using their own yardsticks. Without a standard set of criteria, comparisons of data repositories across journal ratings become problematic. Not only are common measures necessary, but a sense of fair assessment conducted by entities at arms-length is desirable. For example, an assessment conducted by a publisher of its own data repository has less face value than one performed by an independent party.

Rather than see Science strike out on its own to assess data repositories, I would prefer to have them work collaboratively with organisations already engaged in these activities. The Standards and Interoperability Committee of Research Data Canada has a report soon to be released that presents a set of criteria used to assess a number of data repositories. The Research Data Alliance has a working group on the audit and certification of data repositories developed on a partnership between the World Data System and the Data Seal of Approval. In Germany, a catalogue of criteria for trusted digital repositories (nestor) has been developed through community involvement. Journal editors and publishers should work with these organisations when preparing a list of data repositories to recommend.