The State of Open Data 2023: Key takeaways for Librarians


The State of Open Data 2023 was recently released by Figshare, Digital Science and Springer Nature. The report presents the findings of a global survey that saw over 6000 respondents. Now in its eighth year, it is the longest-running longitudinal study of researchers’ attitudes towards and experiences of open data.

Read the full report.

This blog post will talk through some of the key findings of the report and share some specific takeaways for those working in libraries. As the pressure on researchers to share their data openly has increased exponentially, so has the pressure on libraries to provide support. Libraries and their staff play an essential and integral role in furthering the open research agenda.

Support is not making its way to those who need it 

Almost three-quarters of respondents said that they had never received support with data sharing. For the remaining 23% that said they had received support, the institutional library was the second most selected option. 

However, many libraries have robust research data management (RDM) support offerings in place and some have substantial dedicated resources to help researchers navigate open data sharing. 

Although some researchers may have genuine difficulty finding RDM support, we can infer that for many, it’s a case of them being unaware the support channels exist, or that it’s not reaching them at the right time in their research process. 

What can librarians do? 

  • Libraries need to continue promoting their research data management support services and explore new ways to reach researchers. Hosting events, engaging directly with different faculties and departments, and ultimately making it clear that the library can and wants to help with proficient RDM are all helpful steps in helping support reach those who need it. Libraries could consider partnering with select faculty to develop successful and appropriate communication strategies to highlight where and when support is available. 
  • Libraries can also work to make their support offerings more readily available, Aamir Hussain from De Montfort University in the UK, discussed his self-serve Figshare training course for researchers looking to share their data openly in a recent webinar. Automated and efficient researcher support that is easily accessible and readily available is key to not only reaching more researchers but also not burdening the sometimes already limited resources of library teams.

One size does not fit all 

Another interesting finding of our report was that when the survey responses were broken down by the different geographies and subject areas of expertise of our respondents, we found there was significant variation. 

Graph showing the percentage of respondents that support national data mandates in their country, showing data for the 10 countries with the highest number of respondents.
Graph showing the percentage of respondents that would be motivated by certain circumstances to share their data, broken down by subject area of expertise of the respondents.

Awareness and support levels for key open research concepts are different from country to country and from those working across different fields. This led us to issue a recommendation in our report for stakeholders to consider the ‘state of open data’ in their specific research setting and tailor support accordingly. The survey data is openly available and institutions can examine responses within their specific contexts.

What can librarians do? 

  • If general support channels are in place for all researchers, librarians could seek to better understand the specific challenges and motivations of researchers from different departments and create tailored training or education materials to engage directly with different audiences. 
  • In a recent Figshare webinar, we heard from Lara Skelly, Open Research Manager at Loughborough University. She has done a lot of work in her position to apply traditional marketing messaging frameworks to her open research advocacy work to encourage open data and repository engagement. Lara discussed how important a nuanced approach is when communicating with different audiences with differing levels of enthusiasm or motivation for a certain topic. Other librarians could consider adopting a similar technique and tailoring messaging depending on the group they’re engaging with when discussing data sharing. 

Challenging stereotypes 

Another key finding of our 2023 report was that researchers at all stages of their careers share the same levels of support and have the same motivations for open data. This challenges the commonly held misconception that more established academics are opposed to advancement in the data-sharing space and that early-career researchers are the ones more receptive to progress. 

Awareness of the concept of a data management plan broken down by the first year that the respondent published a peer-reviewed article

Early career researchers are not the only ones who support and also struggle with data sharing. In a library setting, it may be tempting to focus on instilling and promoting core open science values among early career researchers and those who are just starting their academic journeys. One takeaway from this year's results is that those looking to engage research communities should be inclusive and deliberate with their outreach, engaging those who have not yet published their first paper as well as those who first published over 30 years ago. 

What can librarians do? 

  • Librarians can ensure that their outreach is inclusive and involves more established faculty members and researchers. Colleagues and supervisors were listed as the most popular source of support for those researchers (23%) who had received support with data sharing. Therefore, fostering a culture where researchers, at all stages of their careers, are supportive of and aware of the available resources to help with data sharing, is essential. 

Credit is an ongoing issue 

For eight years running, The State of Open Data survey has found that the overwhelming majority of researchers feel they do not receive enough credit for sharing their data openly. Appropriate credit for data sharing is a developing area and there is significant movement in the space, notably from groups and initiatives like Make Data Count

Longitudinal survey data from 2019-2023 for the question ‘Do you think researchers currently get sufficient credit for data sharing?’ 

What can librarians do? 

Whilst appropriate credit for data sharing is a developing space, there are some tangible things that librarians can do, advocate for and share that may help move things along. 

  • Many libraries use and maintain institutional repositories, they therefore have oversight of research data being shared from across the university. They can highlight success stories of FAIR data having a notable reach and influence, perhaps it has been cited or received a lot of online attention; this may further motivate other researchers to share their data via the appropriate channels, as they are motivated by the potential of additional credit. 
  • As part of their training materials, librarians could emphasize the importance of always citing datasets properly, to encourage and facilitate appropriate accreditation. 

AI awareness hasn’t translated into action 

For the first time this year, we asked our respondents to tell us about their awareness of and experiences with using ChatGPT or other AI tools to support research data processing, collection and metadata creation. 

The results do not yet show a clear picture, and the most common answer to all of our questions was ‘I am aware of these tools but haven’t yet considered using them.’ 

What can librarians do? 

  • Librarians should remain informed and engaged about the progress of AI tools and their applications to the research process. There have already been examples of AI tools successfully being applied to research data and producing astounding results  (such as DeepChem, ClimateNet and DeepTrio) and it’s likely this is a space that will see a huge amount of development in the coming years. 

Librarians are essential and unique stakeholders in the research process and continue to work hard globally for their researchers; implementing innovative support strategies as well as actual infrastructure to help their faculties navigate the complexities of open data compliance and ultimately furthering the open research agenda. 

Figshare is proud to partner with over 150 organizations and support libraries all around the world as they work to bolster their research data management infrastructure, enhance their support offerings and champion open science principles. 

To find out more about Figshare for your institution, get in touch 

Nov 23, 2023 10:58

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