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A day in the life of a data archivist

What do data archivists do, exactly? Understand their tasks, their educational background, the challenging aspects of their job, and how ZONTAL can support their day-to-day work.

For many, the word “archivist” conjures up images of a person trudging through piles of dusty documents, organizing shelves, and cataloguing physical collections. While that may be occasionally true, this career has more to offer than meets the eye. Archivists are crucial for preserving all kinds of information within institutions, providing a clear view of the past and helping to inform future decisions. In particular, a new breed of professionals has been increasingly in demand: the data archivist.

What do data archivists do?

Data archivists are in charge of collecting, structuring, and storing data so that it is useful in the long term. For instance, an archivist may work closely with pharmaceutical data, thoroughly recording information about compounds that may turn out to have novel uses in the future. Given the complexity of this undertaking, the ideal educational background for a data archivist is a degree in archival or library science. This training teaches archivists how to gather and catalogue material, how to help users find the assets they need, and how to curate information so that it is easily digestible and remains so over a long period of time. According to the QS World University Rankings, the best institutions for studying this subject are the University of British Columbia (Canada) and the University of Sheffield (UK). Professionals who specialize in this area can expect a mean annual salary of $57,500 in the United States (source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Why hiring a data archivist is a strategic move?

As analytics tools improve and more information becomes available, taking advantage of these digital resources is fundamental for businesses to remain competitive. In this context, hiring a data archivist is a strategic move, as this professional helps companies build the foundation necessary for leveraging data. Specifically, archivists can structure information so that it abides by FAIR data principles, making it Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable. In practice, this makes it so that other people in the business are able to employ data in their research, analysis, and product development. Read our whitepaper on FAIR data to further explore the benefits of structuring data in this way.

What are the challenges of this job?

On a typical day, a data archivist faces a number of challenges. One common requirement is to efficiently handle large amounts of data, e.g. records from large-scale clinical trials. To put this in perspective, many trials can involve over 10,000 participants, meaning that the logistics of data management are complex. In order to overcome this issue, archivists employ software that can quickly bring together data from various sources. In our work with clients, we frequently witness the pains associated with manually transferring data between systems, which are a symptom of an application-centric architecture. These issues can be avoided by adopting a data-centric architecture instead, which prioritizes information over systems and makes it much easier to shape the data according to the needs of an organization. Read our whitepaper on data centricity to learn more about the advantages of organizing your business this way.

Another important task for an archivist is to prepare the data for long-term storage, which involves cleansing it and ensuring that it follows a consistent pattern. For instance, data on experimental samples can be structured consistently, so that it is easy to revisit in years to come. Storing content for a long time is tricky, because it requires the data to be understandable on its own, long after its creation and even when the people who generated it are no longer around to explain how it should be interpreted. To overcome this problem, archivists can catalogue the data, describing it clearly so that researchers can later easily find what they need. This is achieved through metadata, which provides a terminology that abides by the standards agreed upon within a specific industry. It is often difficult to ensure that these terms are consistently used across a large enterprise, which is why robust systems for managing reference and master data – like Accurids – are instrumental in this undertaking.

The importance of automation

As we can see, completing these tasks for large amounts of data is very challenging, which is why archivists can immensely benefit from software that automates some of the steps in this process. For instance, archivists can use data management systems to quickly ingest large collections of data, converting information into a consistent standard that can then be further reworked as necessary. Likewise, automated methods for enriching data with descriptions can also be used, helping archivists make records more understandable and searchable. By combining the expertise of these professionals with the appropriate technology, an organization can improve its products and make better strategic decisions.

ZONTAL gives you the functionality to make data ingestion, enrichment, and management easy as ever. Download our whitepaper on digital content preservation to read more about these features, and also check out our product overview page.

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