This post is part of our Curators’ Corner series. Every so often we’ll feature a different DCN Curator. The series grew out of a community-building activity wherein curators at our partner organizations interview each other “chain-letter style” in order to get to know each other and their work outside of the DCN better. We hope you enjoy these posts!
Jonathan Wheeler is Associate Professor and Data Curation Librarian at the University of New Mexico’s College of University Libraries and Learning Services. Jon was interviewed by Joanna Thielen in December 2022.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to your current position?
I’ve been in this position [Data Curation Librarian] since 2012. I was previously a Circulation Supervisor at a couple of university libraries. Then, after receiving my Master’s degree, I was very briefly an Environmental Records Coordinator at the White Sands Missile range. That was a contract position, and we lost the contract the first year I was there. So being here in New Mexico, I was actually quite happy when a position became available at the UNM [University of New Mexico] since this was where I really wanted to be. I had come out to New Mexico with the goals of eventually being at UNM. So I took this position and it’s my first full time, professional library position. So I came to it by many paths. But I was a lecturer, non-tenure track when I started. I joined the tenure track, doing the same thing here with the same position in 2017, and I just got tenure last year.
What do you do?
In my job here at the University of New Mexico, we have a two person Research Data Services Department. And we offer a full suite of research support that’s pretty much in line with what other institutions are offering. We provide a data management plan consultation support; a lot of consultations with researchers about the upstream research processes related to data collection, quality assurance, quality control. Most of our hands-on work that we do with researchers is in data management planning and consultation. We provide a lot of support for data sharing, data archiving and preservation. That can range from anywhere from pointing someone to Dryad, which, if they want it, it’s a self service model but of course we always encourage them to work with us to augment their metadata and use open formats. We also focus a lot of work on data science instruction and data science training. Myself and my supervisor, we’re both certified Data Carpentries instructors. We’re also instructor trainers, and in addition to our work with the Carpentries, we have a rotating monthly series of data science workshops featuring Python, R, version control, SQL, etc. At the bigger picture, what we really try to do is foster communities of practice or engage groups, if you will, around the issues of data management and data sharing.
How much of your job involves data curation?
In my job description, it’s my entire job – in the sense that I’d be the sole Data Curation Librarian and if we had a fully staffed research data services department. For example, we have future openings we hope to fill for a data scientist and other positions. I’m primarily responsible for helping researchers with data packaging and ingest into the two or three repositories that we have access to. In practice, I would say that most of my job comes down to the data science things that we do in terms of those workshops and the resulting reference questions and consultations. We also help researchers get data into services like OpenICPSR. We work with the New Mexico EPSCoR, which includes an NSF funded center focused on smart grid development. So we work a lot with the researchers to curate their data through that five year program. Right now, that’s a lot of leg work to try and get the data and to track the data down from publications. A lot of those products are code, so we help with setting up the workflow between Github, Zenodo, and Dryad. I guess if I were to put a number on it, I would say maybe out of my work time about a quarter to a third is curation. A lot of the rest is focused on consultation and data science initiatives.
Why is data curation important to you?
You know I read these questions the other day, and I’ve reflected on that. On the one hand, I can say all of the reasons that we advocate for data sharing and preservation, in terms of providing democratic access to funded research and increasing the longevity of in some cases irreplaceable data sets. Also, for me personally, I’m curious. Data curation in a lot of ways satisfies my curiosity about many things. Being able to work with researchers, I’ve learned some things about economics. I’ve learned some things about ecology, about biology and astronomy. It’s selfish to say it’s important to me because it satisfies my curiosity. But what I hope is to use that as sort of the lens through which I work with researchers to say if I’ve been able to make some sense out of this dataset in economics, for example, which is an area I have no background in, hopefully, the work I’ve done will then make it meaningful. comprehensive or useful to not just other economists, but other people who may have a use or interest in that dataset. I guess if I could abstract my own curiosity out to a cultural level, I think that it can inspire new questions and new insights, if we’re able to do a good job making these data accessible and useful.
Why is the Data Curation Network important?
I like networks of colleagues. I wonder whether we’re growing as a field within librarianship in general. I know in some directions we are, in some directions we may not be. But you know when I go to conferences, I see a lot of very familiar colleagues. I’ve read your articles. I’ve seen your presentations. We’ve met. I like the fact that the Data Curation Network consolidates that network of colleagues and creates a way for us to be resources for each other. Most practically, because again, we have a two person research data services unit. My background is in the humanities. I don’t have a strong STEM background. So when it comes to subject areas, I’m a generalist. Although I was saying a little ago that I enjoyed learning about these things, I am always conscious that, for example, a chemistry librarian could do a much better job curating a chemistry data set right. An economics librarian could do a better job curating some of these economics data sets that I curated. Just having the access to the expertise and the colleagues is very valuable. I look forward to learning how we can leverage the existence of the Network to drive more data sharing and more data publication within our own institutions. Most of my job right now is data science with a smaller amount of data curation. I think we have opportunities for outreach and growth, and I would like to see us get more traffic. It’s a balancing act. Now we can tip the balance a little more to try and get more datasets because we have access to more human resources.
If you weren’t doing data curation what would you be doing?
If I were still in libraries, I would probably be in access services. I was an access service circulation supervisor for 10 years before I got my master’s degree. I enjoyed a lot of the
the opportunities and challenges that go with that. You get to work with more people, meet more people, and see more people, which is something I enjoy. If I were not doing librarianship at all, I would probably be a dog trainer. I have 3 dogs and they require a lot of attention. Because you have to train them, you learn so much about their personalities, your personality and your interactions. It’s been so rewarding by itself outside of my work life that if UNM closed up shop tomorrow, I think I would probably be a dog trainer.
What is your favorite cuisine?
I’m a vegetarian, and I have been for 26 years now. I think a cuisine that appealed to me right away because there was so much ready to go for vegetarians was Mediterranean cuisine. You could go anywhere along the Mediterranean and say that whether you’re talking about Greek food, Lebanese food, Israeli food, or some Northern African cuisine. There’s just a tremendous amount of good, tasty food. Real whole food, not like fake stuff and highly processed food products.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I’m a musician. Over the past few years, I’ve started studying classical and jazz guitar. I spend a lot of time practicing, a lot of time walking my dogs, and training myself to do difficult things on the guitar. If I’m not playing music, I’m listening to it. I probably consume more music than 99% of people. But I don’t watch television. So all my entertainment time is music.
What is your favorite city?
I thought about this one, too, and I don’t actually know. I lived in New York City. I’ve visited places. If I had to pick one, I might say Barcelona, but it would be hard to say why. My favorite place to go right now is not a city. It’s about as far from a city as you can get in the United States. It’s called the Cosmic Campground. It’s a little rinky-dink campground in western New Mexico, a few miles from the Arizona border. It’s one of the darkest places in the country so it’s great for astronomy camping. It’s not even near a city, I guess, which is kind of what makes it hard to say. That’s my happy place. Where I’m gonna go, if i’m gonna have a retreat and get away somewhere.
Where would you most like to travel to next?
Yeah, I’d love to go to Southern Argentina. If you think about the music, so much tango music is written for guitar, and so many great guitar players. To experience that art and that culture. And of course, when you get down south there, there’s a whole other side of the sky, if you will, to see and observe. And if I was going to pick one spot on a map and go there without worrying about time or money, that would be the place.
To learn more about Jon, and the datasets he has curated for the DCN, see his curator page!