The hidden value of paper records

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Science  11 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6389, pp. 613
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat5382

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  • RE: The hidden value of paper records, SCIENCE 11 May 2018
    • Shannon Farrell, Natural Resources Librarian, University of Minnesota
    • Other Contributors:
      • Julia Kelly, Science Librarian, University of Minnesota

    We second Brian Buma’s observation that older physical records have value for current and future research (1). His recent letter described using old photographs from Dr. William Cooper to locate plots in southeastern Alaska that were first sampled in 1916 (2). This enabled researchers to resample the plots and add to the longitudinal record about plant community succession in that area (3).

    Photographs as well as various kinds of raw data including field notes, lab notebooks, surveys, and checklists exist all over university campuses - in individual labs, departments and university archives. Federal mandates and journal requirements now call on researchers to organize, describe and preserve their digital research data for the purposes of reuse and reproducibility. However, little attention has been given to the reuse potential of non-digital data. Further, there is no systematic means of finding and accessing these kinds of data. This is an untapped resource for scientific research, and may be of interest to those conducting ecological longitudinal studies. The ability to make comparisons over time may be of particular value for climate change researchers.

    We are concerned that there are no large-scale efforts to preserve non-digital data and hope that scientists consider these data as the institutional assets that they are. Cooper, and his student Lawrence who continued his work, did not know how others were going to use their research; you do not know how...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: The hidden value of paper records, SCIENCE 11 May 2018

    It was pleasing to read Brian Buma's reminder about paper records.
    Valuable data recovered in field surveys need to be maintained for future use. As a former federal government employee in charge of an archive and museum collection, my duty was to preserve this material. Unfortunately, scientists were not always diligent about adding to the collection. I cannot stress enough the importance of filing your field notes and specimens in an appropriate archive.

    Competing Interests: None declared.