6
Challenges and Solutions

The challenges the committee encountered during its investigation into the issues surrounding preservation of geoscience data and collections are a microcosm of those facing the geoscience community and the nation. The conclusions and recommendations the committee reached address these challenges.

One of the main challenges the committee faced was assessing the volume, quality, and location of the nation’s geoscience data and collections.

  • How much and how many geoscience data and collections currently are preserved and available?

  • How much and how many are preserved, but unavailable for various reasons (proprietary reasons, inappropriate storage, lack of knowledge of their existence)?

  • Who has geoscience data and collections now?

  • What is the current condition of their holdings?

  • How much room remains to preserve those that should be retained and to make them accessible?

The committee found information of this type in short supply, but was able to assess the general magnitude of the problem by assembling information where known (Tables 2-1, and 2-2).

A second challenge the committee encountered was determining the nature and effectiveness of the federal-agency effort to preserve and make geoscience data and collections available. Which agencies have responsibility for geoscience data and collections? Over which geoscience data and collections do these agencies have responsibilities? Testimony and input during site visits evinced that while it exists, coordination among federal agencies that collect or archive geoscience data and collections could be improved. Such improved coordination would optimize sharing of business practices and consumer use of related data collected by various agencies or establishing priorities across agencies so that limited funds can be used to the best overall effect. Chapters 1 through 4 contain examples of the benefits of coordinated actions, and the consequences of poor coordination.

Space for present and future geoscience data and collections is a critical challenge. The committee found a critical shortage of space for current geoscience data and collections, let alone those gathered in the future. This challenge itself was not a surprise to the committee—the surprise was the magnitude of the problem that faces the nation and the seeming inability to plan adequately for future space needs. For instance, several state geological surveys that have constructed core libraries within the past 12 years already report 16 percent or less remaining space. Not everything can or should be saved, but the committee was surprised by the reasons given for not preserving endangered geoscience data and collections—mostly related to space and cost as opposed to some of the priorities listed in Table 2-5, for example.

Finally, the committee noted the challenge of rewarding effective curation of geoscience data and collections. Currently, geoscience data and collections are not used to the fullest primarily because of lack of access to information about them, which relates directly to the state of their curation. How can information about geoscience data and collections (i.e., the metadata) be made available more widely? What can be done to encourage effective curation of and access to geoscience data and collections?

The committee recommends the following actions in order to address the challenges outlined above.

  1. The committee recommends that priority for rescuing geoscience data and collections be placed on those in danger of being lost. The highest priority for retention and preservation should be directed toward data and collections that are well documented and impossible or extremely difficult to replace.

  2. The committee recommends funding cataloging ef-



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Geoscience Data and Collections: National Resources in Peril 6 Challenges and Solutions The challenges the committee encountered during its investigation into the issues surrounding preservation of geoscience data and collections are a microcosm of those facing the geoscience community and the nation. The conclusions and recommendations the committee reached address these challenges. One of the main challenges the committee faced was assessing the volume, quality, and location of the nation’s geoscience data and collections. How much and how many geoscience data and collections currently are preserved and available? How much and how many are preserved, but unavailable for various reasons (proprietary reasons, inappropriate storage, lack of knowledge of their existence)? Who has geoscience data and collections now? What is the current condition of their holdings? How much room remains to preserve those that should be retained and to make them accessible? The committee found information of this type in short supply, but was able to assess the general magnitude of the problem by assembling information where known (Tables 2-1, and 2-2). A second challenge the committee encountered was determining the nature and effectiveness of the federal-agency effort to preserve and make geoscience data and collections available. Which agencies have responsibility for geoscience data and collections? Over which geoscience data and collections do these agencies have responsibilities? Testimony and input during site visits evinced that while it exists, coordination among federal agencies that collect or archive geoscience data and collections could be improved. Such improved coordination would optimize sharing of business practices and consumer use of related data collected by various agencies or establishing priorities across agencies so that limited funds can be used to the best overall effect. Chapters 1 through 4 contain examples of the benefits of coordinated actions, and the consequences of poor coordination. Space for present and future geoscience data and collections is a critical challenge. The committee found a critical shortage of space for current geoscience data and collections, let alone those gathered in the future. This challenge itself was not a surprise to the committee—the surprise was the magnitude of the problem that faces the nation and the seeming inability to plan adequately for future space needs. For instance, several state geological surveys that have constructed core libraries within the past 12 years already report 16 percent or less remaining space. Not everything can or should be saved, but the committee was surprised by the reasons given for not preserving endangered geoscience data and collections—mostly related to space and cost as opposed to some of the priorities listed in Table 2-5, for example. Finally, the committee noted the challenge of rewarding effective curation of geoscience data and collections. Currently, geoscience data and collections are not used to the fullest primarily because of lack of access to information about them, which relates directly to the state of their curation. How can information about geoscience data and collections (i.e., the metadata) be made available more widely? What can be done to encourage effective curation of and access to geoscience data and collections? The committee recommends the following actions in order to address the challenges outlined above. The committee recommends that priority for rescuing geoscience data and collections be placed on those in danger of being lost. The highest priority for retention and preservation should be directed toward data and collections that are well documented and impossible or extremely difficult to replace. The committee recommends funding cataloging ef-

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Geoscience Data and Collections: National Resources in Peril forts to gather comprehensive information about existing geoscience data and collections. Access to these funds should be on a competitive basis, and preference should be given to institutions with holdings that meet the same priorities as those outlined above for preservation. The committee recommends that this initial catalog funding effort target 5 to 10 institutions each year until the nation’s geoscience data and collections are adequately assessed. The committee recommends the establishment of a distributed network of regional geoscience data and collections centers, each with an external science-advisory board. The committee recommends establishing three centers (one each in the Gulf Coast, Rocky Mountain, and Pacific Coast regions). Furthermore, the committee recommends that additional regional centers, as merited, be established over the next 5 to 10 years, and that preference be given to those centers that meet three main criteria: need for such a center in the region (i.e., active clientele, identified collections of high-priority, at-risk data in the region); broad involvement and support among various regional geoscience and other entities (government, academia, and industry); and active participation of an independent, external science-advisory board. The committee recommends that the centers build upon existing expertise and infrastructure, such as state geological surveys, museums, universities, and private enterprises, and that, where practical, more efficient use of existing space be encouraged before expansion. Furthermore, the committee recommends that access to the center-establishment and improvement funds be on a competitive basis. The committee recommends establishing a federal geoscience data and collections coordinating committee to optimize federal coordination. The federal geoscience data and collections coordinating committee should appoint several federal external science-advisory boards to advise on priorities for federal holdings, with respect to preservation, cataloging, and access across and within federal and quasi-federal agencies. In addition, the committee recommends that electronic reporting be implemented as soon as possible, with additional funding as required to accelerate it, to reduce the added burden of cataloging future data and samples. The committee recommends that the federal geoscience data and collections coordinating committee monitor and facilitate progress of cataloging efforts across the federal government. The committee recommends that federal agencies be supported to the same extent as non-federal institutes and consortia with respect to cataloging and repositories, with regular review. The committee recommends that priority for federal agency support follow closely those recommended for the regional centers: need for such a repository in the agency; broad or active involvement within and among various federal geoscience agencies (e.g., BLM, DOE, EPA, NASA, NOAA, NSF, USACE, USGS, USNM); and active participation of federal external science-advisory boards. The committee recommends establishing a combination of federal, state, regional, and local government incentives and requirements for geoscience data and collections, donations, and deposition. Establishing such incentives should be an immediate priority to stem the tide of lost and discarded geoscience data and collections, many of which remain useful. The committee recommends that the geoscience community adopt standards for citation in scientific and other publications of geoscience data and collections used. Institutions and professional societies should establish (where appropriate) awards and other forms of recognition for outstanding contributors to the preservation and accessibility of geoscience data and collections. Although challenging, the issues the committee encountered during its investigation into preservation of geoscience data and collections are by no means insurmountable. More importantly, there exist both immediate and long-term benefits to preserving appropriate data and collections. Although the immediate benefits often are apparent, the long-term benefits require careful and imaginative evaluation. Examples of such benefits are: enhanced understanding of the nation’s natural resources; better assessment of the value and extent of public resource holdings; increased safety of the population through knowledge of potential natural hazards and appropriate engineering to minimize damage; more rapid response to natural hazards emergencies; and better knowledge of the history of life on Earth. The continued loss of potentially useful geoscience data and collections erodes our ability to realize these and other benefits. The recommended steps in this document outline a strategy that will reduce this erosion, but only if acted upon now.