Identifying Data for Permanent Retention
A small percentage of data and related records might be identified for permanent storage as a part of the historical record of a discipline or institution, or as intellectual property. Records eligible for permanent retention may be those that:
- document a breakthrough,
- are generated by a lab or individual who had great impact on the field, or
- are highly reusable in a particular area of research.
Difference Between Archiving and Long-term Storage
Permanent retention, or archiving, is often a significant investment for an institution, as it implies ongoing migration of electronic formats and storage costs, as well as care, maintenance and access services for the records in perpetuity. This is not the same as ensuring long-term storage or preservation of research data.
Long-term storage and preservation seeks to ensure that research data will be available to those who seek it (e.g. your sponsors, the public, other researchers) in a persistent and accessible format for the specific period of time outlined by your funder and parent institution. These retention periods also allow for a measured period of time to pass so that a better assessment of the long-term impact of a research project can be evaluated, usually prior to or in conjunction with an archival appraisal process conducted by the Archives or Special Collections department.
Appraising Data for Historical Context
In determining whether your research data and related records are of historic value, it is important to consider the following questions:
- What are the essential records required to understand this research data and project?
- What was the impact of this research on its discipline?
- What had been the impact of the researcher in his or her field?
- Is the research data replicable?
- Is there an index to the data? How would future researchers understand the research?
- Has this research been published? Where?
- Has the data been kept in a research repository?
- Are there additional records related to the data?
- Are there security or access issues?
- Does someone else own the data?
- Are there any related records which should accompany the data?
Guidance on these topics was retrieved from module 7 of the New England Collaborative Data Management Curriculum, which was a project led by the Lamar Soutter Library at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in partnership with several libraries in the New England region.
The Center for the History of Medicine (CHM) at Countway Library is one of the world's leading centers for the study of the history of health and medicine. CHM collects, maintains, and provides access to records of enduring value for historical and research purposes, including research records and data. CHM can assist you with appraising your research for long-term historical value.
To connect with an archivist, please email the Archives and Records Management (ARM) program or call (617) 432-6194.