A Coming of Age

Network News Fall 2005, Vol. 18 No. 2

Resource Discovery for Field Stations prepares for its final year

More than 70 information managers, directors, and field station representatives from over 40 different field stations representing the United States, Canada, the Bahamas, and French Polynesia have participated in an innovative and successful training opportunity provided through the Resource Discovery for Field Stations (RDIFS) grant provided by the National Science Foundation.

The goal of RDIFS is to facilitate storage, discovery, and access to the strategic environmental information resources that are collectively held at North American biological field stations. A variety of activities were designed to achieve this goal, including providing software engineering support for data registries and repositories, creating a thesaurus for field biology, a site characteristics database, a bibliography of field station publications, and a database of field station quality assurance/quality control and standard methods. The trainings and workshops have provided a primary mechanism for training and distribution of these resources.

Since RDIFS's inception in 2002, the grant has organized four, 2-week trainings. Held in the fall, the trainings provide hands-on computer experience with a variety of proprietary and open source software programs, including software created through the grant. Participants learn the skills and tools to resolve issues of data acquisition and archiving that can be taken back and applied at field stations. Ninety-seven percent of the participants in these trainings who completed the post training survey reported that the training met their expectations. Furthermore participants thought the instructors were knowledgeable and well-organized, the materials were useful, and the knowledge and skills they learned will be useful in their jobs. The last training in the series will be held at La Selva field station in Costa Rica in 2006, on a date to be determined.

In addition to the trainings in February 2005, RDIFS held a 2½-day workshop on data discovery and the creation of data registries and metadata catalogs at the LTER Network Office’s Informatics Training and Software Usability Testing Laboratory at the University of New Mexico. The workshop brought together informatics leaders in the ecological community to review existing data registries and technologies, perform crosswalk of registry elements, evaluate capacity of a standardized data registry, assess the usability and identify needed functionality of existing data registries and search engines, examine how existing data registries can support National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), and determine the next steps in bringing these goals to reality. Participants at the workshop proposed the establishment of a web-based Ecological Society of America (ESA) Data Registry that will provide a comprehensive catalog and archive of all data associated with ESA publications. After a presentation to the ESA Governing Board, the Data Registry will be unveiled in January 2006. This web-based registration of metadata allows a search facility to locate data easily and speedily, and supports community-standards Ecological Metadata Language (EML). A Coming of Age Resource Discovery for Field Stations prepares for its final year.

Among other achievements, the RDIFS grant has enabled a variety of improvements to the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS) website. The data registry and repository has an updated registry form, better search and performance capabilities, and is now EML 2.01 compliant. The registry currently holds over 4200 items, and the database of field station standard methods has over 1300 references, can be searched using a simple (keyword, title, author, abstract) or advanced search, and the results or subsets of results can be stored as a list and exported into Endnote or EML.

RDIFS also has created a virtual community to take advantage of new information technologies such as instant relay chat and list-serves. Through this means and the relationships fostered between participants and facilitators, workshop participants have access to software designers, information managers, and metadata coordinators who, together, provide an extensive network of support for participants after they return home to implement the skills learned.