January 17, 2022

New Research Article: “We’re Working On It: Transferring the Sloan Digital Sky Survey From Laboratory to Library”

The following article appears in the latest issue of the International Journal of Digital Curation (Vol. 9, No. 2; 2014).


We’re Working On It: Transferring the Sloan Digital Sky Survey from Laboratory to Library


Ashley E. Sands

Christine L. Borgman

Sharon Traweek

Laura A. Wynholds


International Journal of Digital Curation
Vol. 9, No. 2; 2014


This article reports on the transfer of a massive scientific dataset from a national laboratory to a university library, and from one kind of workforce to another. We use the transfer of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) archive to examine the emergence of a new workforce for scientific research data management. Many individuals with diverse educational backgrounds and domain experience are involved in SDSS data management: domain scientists, computer scientists, software and systems engineers, programmers, and librarians. These types of positions have been described using terms such as research technologist, data scientist, e-science professional, data curator, and more. The findings reported here are based on semi-structured interviews, ethnographic participant observation, and archival studies from 2011-2013.

The library staff conducting the data storage and archiving of the SDSS archive faced two performance problems. The preservation specialist and the system administrator worked together closely to discover and implement solutions to the slow data transfer and verification processes. The team overcame these slow-downs by problem solving, working in a team, and writing code. The library team lacked the astronomy domain knowledge necessary to meet some of their preservation and curation goals.

The case study reveals the variety of expertise, experience, and individuals essential to the SDSS data management process. A variety of backgrounds and educational histories emerge in the data managers studied. Teamwork is necessary to bring disparate expertise together, especially between those with technical and domain education. The findings have implications for data management education, policy and relevant stakeholders.

This article is part of continuing research on Knowledge Infrastructures.

Direct to Full Text Article (13 pages; PDF)

See Also: Reference: Astronomers Release the Largest Ever Three-Dimensional Map of the Sky (August 10, 2012)

UPDATE  On a Related Note…

Why Harvard and the Smithsonian teamed up to crowdsource a century of astronomical history (by Simon Owens)

Thanks and Hat Tip: Boing Boing

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.