Historical scientific analog data: Life sciences faculty’s perspectives on management, reuse and preservation

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Older data in paper or analog format (e.g., field/lab notebooks, photos, maps) held in labs, offices, and archives across research institutions are an often overlooked resource for potential reuse in new scientific studies. However, there are few mechanisms to help researchers find existing analog data in order to reuse it. Yet, in the literature, reuse of historical data is particularly important in studies of biodiversity and climate change. We surveyed life science researchers at the University of Minnesota to understand and explore current and potential future use of historical data, attitudes around sharing and reusing data, and preservation of the data. Large amounts of historical data existed on our campus. Most researchers had reused or shared it, and many continued to add to their data sets. Some data had been scanned, over half of researchers have re-keyed some of their data into machine-readable format, and nearly all that were converted to a digital format were stored on unstable platforms and legacy formats. Researchers also expressed concerns about long-term preservation plans, or who to contact for assistance in planning for the future of the data, since much of these data are at risk for loss. Currently produced digital data sets are subject to guidelines and requirements developed at a national level. Solutions for historical analog data could benefit from a similar high-level treatment, and it will take experts from various fields to lead this effort. Given libraries’ expertise in data management and preservation, librarians are in a position to collaborate on devising cross-disciplinary solutions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number51
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalData Science Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s).

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Analog data
  • Data management
  • Data reuse
  • Data sharing
  • Historical data
  • Preservation


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