Building Blocks: Laying the Foundation for a Research Data Management Program

by Ricky Erway, Laurence Horton, Amy Nurnberger, Reid Otsuji, and Amy Rushing


Many research libraries are taking on a new role to support the research data management needs of their researchers and of their universities. In many cases, there are few resources to support the activity and a single librarian may have only the title or responsibility to get started. This document begins by suggesting very low-overhead ways to start a management program and goes on to describe services that can be added as possible to build out the program. References to many other resources are included.


  • Public funding agencies increasingly are requiring that research grant recipients make their data publicly accessible, which exposes valuable university assets.
  • The library is well situated to manage activities such as outreach, data deposit, metadata creation, and preservation; some university libraries are directed to do so, while others proactively offer their services.
  • Libraries that are beginning to design a program need foundational guidance in areas such as needs assessment, outreach and training for researchers and library staff, preparation of data management plans, and legal issues.
  • Libraries that have an active program in place need more detailed guidance, which comprises Part 2 of Building Blocks.
  • The published literature in this area is already extensive, and Building Blocks includes more than 100 citations to material addressing all aspects of data management planning.

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Establishing a research data management (RDM) program has become a pressing imperative for many research libraries, but relatively few have a program in place. The challenges are many; these include learning about RDM principles and issues, assessing the local institution’s greatest needs, selecting and implementing a repository environment, working with researchers to convey the importance of this work, preparing training materials, building expertise among library staff, and establishing metadata guidelines.

Building Blocks offers detailed guidance at two levels: Part 1, Laying the Foundation, is directed at institutions that have yet to begin implementation, with the objective of guiding them through the steps necessary to establish a firm, supportive foundation on which to build. Part 2, Building Up and Out, is for those who are somewhat further along and ready to create the structure of a full RDM program.

In addition to guiding readers through the full array of stages in building a program, Building Blocks includes more than 100 citations to resources that implementers can learn from and leverage.

This work is part of our research collections and support efforts to inform current thinking about research collections and the emerging services that libraries are offering to support contemporary modes of scholarship. We are encouraging the development of new ways for libraries to build and provide these types of collections and deliver distinctive services. For more information about this specific effort, see our role of libraries in data curation project.

Suggested citation:

Ricky Erway, Laurence Horton, Amy Nurnberger, Reid Otsuji, and Amy Rushing. 2016. Building Blocks: Laying the Foundation for a Research Data Management Program. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Research.