So a lot of libraries and campus IT shops in the States are gearing up to deal with this whole NSF data-management plan thing. Websites are going up, would-be consultants are warming up their phones, plans are being planned (and sometimes even executed).
What if we build it and they don't come? Have we thought about this possibility?
I'm afraid my intrinsically Cassandraic nature only partly inspires these questions. We know pretty well from surveys and qualitative investigations (bug me for a bibliography if you like) that the average researcher hasn't a clue librarians can help her look after her research data. The said average researcher despises librarians, for that matter; she thinks that pukka information management can be taught to graduate students soup to nuts in a weeklong seminar, and she thinks that the real limiting skill for data management is deep disciplinary knowledge (which raises the question of why she typically leaves it to wet-behind-the-ears grad students, but…). The average researcher is dead wrong, of course (including about disciplinary knowledge being the sole limiter), but does she know that?
So let's imagine our old friend Dr. Helen Troia of the University of Achaea's Basketology department for a moment, faced with this new NSF requirement. Where will she go for help?
Well, she's probably going to call her NSF program officer first, an eminently reasonable thing to do. I hope the NSF has told its program officers to tell all the Dr. Troias of this world to look for help in their libraries—at least on their own campuses—but I'm not sanguine. What is clear, though, is that the NSF isn't going to manage Dr. Troia's data for her; at most, it'll give her a better idea of what she has to do to prove she's managing it wisely. So where does she go then?
She may also talk to her research-support office. Libraries: does your institution's research-support office know about your NSF-related activities? If it doesn't, better tell it. And she'll have a word with her local grant admin (she's lucky enough to have one) as well. Libraries: what do local grant administrators know about you?
If Dr. Troia's data are digital (not all data covered under the policy are, a point that bears re-emphasis), her next stop is likely to be her departmental IT talent. Libraries: if you are only partnering with campus IT, you may (depending on the way your campus is organized) be missing the boat. Find out where the people in small IT shops hang out, and reach out to them, too.
Now, departmental IT may well take on the job, but they are liable to do it ludicrously wrong. "Here, have some server storage space," they will say, ignoring questions of metadata, versioning, formats, organization, security, citability and other sharing issues, sustainability past grant expiration, and possibly even backup. I'm not sneering; with my own eyes I have seen a campuswide IT shop at a major research university, a shop that should assuredly know better, advertising unbacked-up storage as suitable for data-archiving needs. (No, I won't link. Yes, I am tempted to.) Again, it's a case of people not realizing what they don't know. NSF helper-elves need to be prepared to cope with that.
If departmental IT punts (as it likely should), then and only then will Dr. Troia approach campus IT. She will do so with fear and trepidation, as campus IT tends to be a Cthulhoid monstrosity, as fathomable as sunken Rl'yeh and approximately as helpful. Libraries: how are front-line tech-support finding out about your NSF-related services?
If none of the above people with whom Dr. Troia interacts points her toward the library, she won't come to the library. I wish that weren't so too. It's so. The inevitable corollary is that outreach efforts should not start with researchers. It should start with the layer of support and administrative staff with whom researchers regularly interact.
Even more cheerfully: none of this may work. We just don't know yet. We'll know much better in a year or so! Best have a plan for if it doesn't. Can you get a list of campus NSF awardees, to contact them individually? Do you have a few campus researchers who are willing to do projects with you? Can you get at the graduate students who are doing the real work?
Good luck. I think we'll all need it.