January 27, 2022

“Research Data Services in US Higher Education: A Web-Based Inventory” (New Research Report From Ithaka S+R)

The research report linked to below was published today by Ithaka S+R.


Research Data Services in US Higher Education: A Web-Based Inventory


Jane Radecki
Ithaka S+R

Rebecca Springer
Ithaka S+R


Ithaka S+R
November 18, 2020
DOI: 10.18665/sr.314397

From the Introduction

Source: https://doi.org/10.18665/sr.314397

This report presents the results of an inventory of research data services offered by US colleges and universities using a systematic web searching process. Our results represent a holistic, quantitative picture of services that support data-driven research across organizational units and institutional types.

In addition to sharing these findings, we have also provided extensive methodological documentation in hopes of inspiring and enabling future research. Until now, there has been no effective methodology for capturing quantitative data about the provision and organization of research data services across diverse institutional structures. Although there are limitations to this type of web-based inventory, the advantages over other research methods, such as surveys, are significant for measuring what research data services are offered and where. We discuss the scope of our study below and provide additional methodological details in the Appendix.

Summary of Findings

Below, we provide an analysis of the results of our inventory applied to 120 US colleges and universities. We begin with a high-level comparison of research data services provided by institutions in three groups: R1 (doctoral institutions with very high research activity), R2 (doctoral institutions with high research activity), and selective baccalaureate colleges (here abbreviated SLACs). Next, we present findings relating to high performance computing and the provision of research services by libraries and IT departments (including research computing) and by academic departments, independent research centers and facilities, and professional schools. Finally, we identify key service gaps which appear across the institutional structure.

The following are our high-level findings:

  1. Overall, R1 institutions exceed R2s and SLACs by more than double in the number of research data services offered. The average R1 offers 7.6 research data services, while the average R2 offers 2.6 and the average SLAC offers 1.8.
  2. 100 percent of sampled R1 institutions offered high performance computing facilities, as did 60 percent of R2s and 24 percent of SLACs.
  3. Libraries are important providers of research data services across all three Carnegie classifications. While the most commonly-offered service is generalist consultation, a small number of R1 and SLAC libraries offer research data services with a variety of disciplinary, methodological, and technical focuses.
  4. Although IT departments (including research computing units) provide fewer research data services than libraries overall, they are also an important service provider, particularly on campuses where the library does not offer research data services.
  5. A wide variety of research data services, most focused on specific disciplines or methodologies, can be found in academic departments, independent research centers and facilities, and professional schools. These services most commonly focus on statistics and (at R1 universities) bioinformatics.
  6. Research data services provided by academic departments, independent centers and facilities, and professional schools can be staffed by faculty, staff, students, or a combination of those groups. Overall, individuals in staff roles most commonly provide these services. But faculty members do frequently provide research data services focused on statistical analysis and methodological support.
  7. Research data services focused on statistics can be found in academic departments (usually statistics or mathematics), independent centers or institutes, medical schools, other professional schools, and IT departments. Seventy percent of R1s, 60 percent of R2s, and 22.5 percent of SLACs have at least one statistics-focused service.

    Source: “Research Data Services in US Higher Education: A Web-Based Inventory” (Ithaka S+R; November 2020); DOI: 10.18665/sr.314397

  8. The majority of R1 institutions included in our review (72.5 percent) have at least one research data service focused on bioinformatics. R1 medical schools, and to a lesser extent R2 medical schools, are strong providers of research data services overall, and particularly of bioinformatics services.
  9. While statistics and bioinformatics research data services are common at R1 universities, the picture for other Carnegie classifications and other types of services is very different. More than half of R2 institutions offer at least one statistics-focused service; around half of R1s and one third of R2s and SLACs provide geospatial research data services. Services focused on clinical data, social sciences, business, or the humanities are each found at less than 20 percent of institutions across Carnegie classifications.

The results of this inventory lay a foundation for future study by suggesting needs which may be under-provisioned or inefficiently organized, as well as revealing significant variations in the extent of service provision among different institutions. This inventory also raises important questions about how research data services are best organized, funded, and staffed. And it represents a necessary first step toward evaluating the quality, relevance, capacity, and uptake of current data services and envisioning future offerings.

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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.