Choosing a Repository: It’s FAIRly Simple With the Right Tools

The notion that research data should be FAIR – findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable – is well established. Still, some researchers feel that publishing their research data according to these principles is too much of a hassle. It certainly adds an extra step to the publishing process but it comes with a host of benefits, which make the additional effort worthwhile.

Firstly, storing data according to the FAIR principles makes a difference to other researchers. By licencing your work, using a shared vocabulary, and documenting your data with rich metadata, (re)using the data becomes much more straightforward, effectively advancing research. The FAIR principles also allow scientists to demonstrate a good work ethic and that their research is in accordance with best practices, which increases their credibility. Furthermore, sharing data in a controlled fashion facilitates an assessment of the data’s popularity – other researchers can see whose data are of good quality and well documented enough to work with, which sheds positive light on the publications and their authors. Lastly, sharing FAIR data helps scientists structure, document, and store their data in a way that benefits their own future research.

The decision of where you want to keep your data is crucial – after all, you are determining who will look after them, “display” them, and store them in the long term. There are also questions of visibility, availability, and in some cases even of cost. Making such an important decision, especially with the FAIR principles in mind, can be daunting and this might be one of the reasons why data sharing gains traction slowly in the community most affected: the researchers. However, there are tools, which can help scientists navigate the choice of a good repository.

Figure 1: CC BY re3data.org – Registry of Research Data Repositories. https://doi.org/10.17616/R3D Last accessed: 2019-11-01

An excellent starting point for choosing a repository is Re3data, hosted by DataCite. Re3data is a global registry of roughly 2400 research data repositories of different fields, subjects, and contents. Apart from searching with keywords, the registry allows users to navigate the repositories through powerful search filters on the left-hand side. Here the researcher can choose a subject and then narrow down the results by relevant parameters, such as database access restrictions (for sensitive data), persistent identifier systems, or versioning.

Figure 2: CC BY re3data.org – Registry of Research Data Repositories. https://doi.org/10.17616/R3D Last accessed: 2019-11-01

Once the search parameters are set, Re3data offers another useful feature: icons for the quick identification of a repository’s main characteristics. Users see at a glance the type of access, terms of use and licences, policy, and identifiers of the repositories, whether they are certified and adhere to repository standards. In the more detailed entries for the repositories, Re3data shows in-depth information such as the institutions involved with the repository as well as its terms and standards. This shows users what repositories that fellow scientists in the field are working with, and whether their choice complies with the SNSF FAIR data requirements. Overall, the site makes for an easy-to-use examination of potential repositories and helps scientists make an informed choice.

Figure 3: CC BY datacite.org – last accessed 2019-11-01

DataCite recently introduced an interesting pilot project: a separate website called Repository Finder. This additional search engine lets researchers look specifically for repositories that are compatible with the Enabling Fair Data Project, which focuses on facilitating FAIR data sharing within the natural sciences. Repository Finder searches the Re3data registry with the option to filter according to repositories in the natural sciences that provide open access to data and use persistent identifiers. Repository Finder does not give the same in-depth information about each repository as Re3data itself but its creation shows DataCite’s willingness to respond to researcher’s need for finer calibration in their search for suitable repositories.

Both Re3data.org and Repository Finder are very helpful, so why not use one of them to find a repository for your next project!

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