Valentine’s day week for the international data community is not only a time for expressing your love to the significant others in your life. As it is also Love Data Week, it is also a time to reflect on your love for all things data! That was the goal for the Research Data team this year! The theme of this year’s Love Data Week was “My Kind of Data”, suggesting that data workers – researchers and analysts alike – have a relationship to data that is personal, often idiosyncratic, and almost always heartfelt. The Research Data team, as supporters of the University’s researchers, are interested in such relationships and are always eager to discover the distinctive needs that the disciplinary differences between the University’s departments create. This year, the Research Data team decided that they wanted to find out from students and researchers from the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) what was their kind of data.
To do so, the Research Data team positioned themselves at the Foyer of the Alison Richard Building on the University’s Sidgwick Site, which is home to several AHSS departments, for two mornings on Monday the 12th and Thursday the 15th of February. Across the city, Data Champion Lizzie Sparrow was leading the charge with science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEMM) students and researchers by holding her own pop-up at the West Hub. Like the Research Data team, and as a Research Support Librarian (Engineering) herself, Lizzie is also interested in the relationships that researchers have with data. Her approach, however, would likely be different. Unlike researchers in the STEMM subjects, the term data for AHSS students and researchers can sometimes feel exclusionary as they may not consider what they generate through research as data. From our perspective on the other hand, any material that goes on to form any part of their research is one’s data. To bring attention to this, the team tried to engage passers-by with the provocation “you have research data, change our minds!” The provocation was successful and many conversations were had on the different ways that members of the Sidgwick community understood data in their research.
The team was pleased to find that there was a general interest in the services of the Research Data team among the Sidgwick community, and we were happy to be able to share with others how we can help them with their data management and planning.
The team tried to capture the sentiments of the conversations had by asking the Sidgwick community to partake in 2 short activities as they departed our pop-up to better understand their relationship with data (in exchange for Love Hearts sweets!). Firstly, we asked them to describe to us what data was to them, a question that we are extremely fond of asking! As usual, the answers were informative and they helped us to gain a sense of the varying data types that the Sidgwick community worked with – from political tracts and archival materials to balance sheets and land deeds from the early modern era.
For the second activity, we asked them what term best captured the materials that formed the basis of their scholarly work: data, research materials, or other? To our surprise, the majority of people we spoke to over both days saw themselves as working with data, more than double the number that saw themselves working with research materials, with a small number seeing themselves as working with both, interchangeably. This finding illustrated something that has been increasingly discussed in the Research Data team office: that finding alternatives to the term data may make our services and initiatives more appealing to members of the AHSS community. This is something we will take into account when targeting our outreach in the future. Yet, one thing is certain – our Research Data services are needed by the AHSS community just as much as it is by the STEMM community.
The pop-ups at the Alison Richard building were encouraging and it is hoped that fruitful relationships will transpire from these events. This is something that we may hold again soon. It was a good way to communicate our message and make others aware of the services of the Research Data team. Over at the West Hub Lizzie was not as encouraged, having only managed to have in depth chats with a couple of people. She reported that lots of people were very determinedly on their way somewhere and not up for stopping to talk. The time and/or location did not seem right for the intended audience. I suppose, we shouldn’t stand in between a student and their food. In any case, there were lots to take away from this Love Data Week pop-ups, and lots to reflect when we plan for our next pop-up, be it for Love Data Week 2025 or just as a periodic service to the research community here at Cambridge. Perhaps when the weather is nicer in the summer, we will do a pop-up outdoors in the middle of the Sidgwick site, or at research events throughout the University. If you have any ideas on where it would be good for us to hold such a pop-up, do let us know!