Staff Profile: Sara Gonzales, Data Librarian
As a data librarian at the Galter Health Sciences Library & Learning Center, you’re less likely to see Sara Gonzales organizing books than you are to see her exploring data management techniques, helping others organize biomedical research.
Gonzales’ role includes sifting through staggering quantities of metadata, teaching researchers how to organize their findings, and contributing to an international project to modernize institutional repository systems.
“Getting here was a long, winding road,” she says. “Data librarian is not a position I had heard of in library school or what I thought I would do, but it turned out to be a natural progression for me.”
Gonzales earned her BA in Anthropology and an MS in Anthropology & Museum Studies, followed by a Master of Library & Information Science with an archivist concentration about a decade ago
“I began my career in small museums that also incorporated a library and an archive, and that is when I first felt the joy of finding a hidden piece of information that someone is looking for. I worked my way up and I learned archives management along the way,” she says.
Following a role at Adler Planetarium, Gonzales was hired as part of a team working on next-generation repository technology and workflows. This work benefits the repository infrastructure at Feinberg, updating the existing system with InvenioRDM, a robust repository framework. Records from the existing repository, DigitalHub, are already in the process of being migrated.
“The new repository will hold people’s research outputs and makes them discoverable and citable,” she explains. “This can include everything from datasets to preprints to conference materials. A real strength of the repository is providing a place to store and redistribute gray literature. There are parallels to my previous archiving work, but I’m primarily working with very recently produced resources.”
Gonzales is skilled at helping to create access to data. A lot of her work is with metadata, and she says she likes the clean, organized way it works.
“It’s really satisfying the way the data is presented,” she says. “It is structured so that you can follow the pattern and it’s really satisfying to follow it and see how it flows together.”
While different schema organize different kinds of data, together they have one main goal.
“We are trying to make the data more connected,” she says. “These links make the data records more discoverable, so that more people can find them, use them, and cite them, supporting reproducibility.
Gonzales is currently engaged with several different projects — from helping usher in the new repository, to working on data outreach with the National Evaluation Center, to her role as the Community Manager on the internationally-distributed InvenioRDM development project.
“As the Community Manager,” she says, “I work to bring all the partners together for communication, discussions of issues related to the repository, and collaboration on projects. We presented recent development, community, and implementation updates at the recent Open Repositories conference. The in-person conference supported direct dialogue with the international repository community, where the team was able to answer questions, demo the software, and work to welcome additional partners to the community.”
Gonzales is also working on teaching and proliferating curriculum as the Final NIH Policy for Data Management and Sharing goes into effect. As of January 2023, the NIH will require researchers to submit data management and sharing plans with all funding applications.
“There is a huge educational effort involved with this process because there is much that is required that researchers may not have had to address before,” she says. Gonzales stresses that she doesn’t want people to be worried about all the change.
“Though there is much to consider, Galter Library is preparing to provide support for our Feinberg community,” she says. “We are going to take a multi-pronged approach, with education and training, support for researchers who have questions, and for many of the policy’s parts — like writing a data management plan — we can provide consultation services.”
Gonzales is perfectly suited for the role.
“I teach classes on things like organizing files, and I help people learn how to clean data with Excel, and open-source tools like OpenRefine,” she says. “If I am teaching a class and anyone has a follow-up question or clarification, sometimes I can answer it on the spot — and if I can’t, I always look it up later, and I’m always thrilled to get to do that.
One teaching moment still stands out for Gonzales.
“A person came up to me after a lecture and said that what I had previously taught them helps them do their work 10 times faster, and that’s just what I want to hear,” she says. “That really sparks joy.
“I’m here to open people’s eyes to the data cleaning tools out there,” she says. “I’m just a gateway. There’s always more to explore on your own, always more to learn.”
In her free time, Gonzales likes exploring new things in a variety of ways.
“I’m a big reader like any good librarian,” she says. “I’m always reading something, and I dabble in writing for fun, too. I also walk outside to get exercise, and I do some cooking.”
If you or your team has questions or need support, particularly with data management and sharing (or even new book recommendations), you can email Gonzales. Helping people find the information they need is what she does best — while also sparking joy.
Written by Rosemary Sissel