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Preservation and long-term storage of research data

HOW DO I MAKE DATA AVAILABLE IN A LONG-TERM PERSPECTIVE?

Once a research project has reached its final stage, you must prepare the research data for long-term preservation. Research materials are to be archived at your higher education institution, in accordance with the Archives Act (SFS 1990:782). This includes everything from raw data files and ethical approval, to research documents and published results.

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Delivering research data for long-term preservation

Once a research project has ended or, in case of ongoing research, at an appropriate time, the research data are to be delivered for long-term storage. Analogue research materials are to be delivered to the University Archives after consulting with the archivists at Records Management (see contact information on the Staff Pages). For digital research data, there is still no system solution for long-term storage. Therefore, it is important to make sure that the research data are stored in a secure way at the relevant department. In some cases, there may be uncertainty concerning appropriate secure storage solutions, and if you as a researcher need help in this area, you can contact the data management service e@LU at Lund University.  

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Metadata for digital research data

Metadata are descriptive data about datasets. They are often a prerequisite for making the data searchable and to be able to convert and “care for” the dataset in order to preserve it. Such information can include data registered in an IT system together with the dataset (e.g. status, division, project name), properties assigned to an office document (e.g. author, title, tags, comments), or other information that can be linked to the specific dataset.

If possible, you should plan the research data and provide it with metadata already when creating it, as reconstruction is often difficult when dealing with large amounts of information.

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Choosing the right file format for digital research data

All digital file formats risk becoming outdated or fall into disuse in the future. If future programs are not able to read and present the information in the files correctly, valuable research data may be lost. To prevent this from happening there are certain measures that can be taken – one is to use a file format that is highly likely to be usable also in the future. 

Suitable formats for long-term preservation and accessibility

  • are common
  • have an open technical specification
  • are supplier independent

However, it is not always possible to choose a format that fulfils all of these criteria. Standards and traditions within different disciplines may determine which file formats can be used. Specific instruments, tools for analysis or your own self-made software may also determine the data format.

If possible, you should plan and use the right format at the outset, as it is not always possible to convert data into formats for long-term retention later on when delivering the data for preservation. When this is not possible, but the data can be saved for dissemination or preservation in a suitable format without major loss, you can facilitate reuse in other ways: by making your self-made software accessible, or by including descriptions of the methods used to make reuse and information retrieval possible anyway.

Read more about digital preservation on the Staff Pages

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Responsibility for managing research data

Similar to archive management in general, the formal responsibility lies with the head of department (or equivalent manager within other parts of the organisation). However, in practice it is often you as a researcher who will be managing a lot of your own research material. Therefore, it is important that both administrators and researchers conduct a continuous dialogue and establish procedures for the processing of research data.

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Rules on preservation and weeding

The National Archives of Sweden is the supervisory authority for all public authorities’ archival activities, and has issued regulations concerning weeding of research documents. Furthermore, Lund University has adopted its own internal rules on the right to decide which research documents are to be preserved through a special decision.

What is to be weeded?

The National Archives’ regulations and general advice concerning weeding of documents related to national research activities (RA-FS 1999:1) state that you are never to weed documents that contain basic information about the aim, method and results of a research project. Administrative documents (applications, agreements, and financial documents) are to be saved and some also registered.

Certain documents may require you as a researcher or the relevant head of department to make your own assessment concerning weeding of mainly different types of primary materials. For purposes of research ethics these are always to be saved for at least 10 years (15 years for medical research) to enable critical review of the research results. After that, the University can largely determine for itself whether or not the material is to be saved. 
However, the National Archives recommend you to not weed any primarily materials that are of:

  • continued scientific value
  • value to other fields of research
  • science history value
  • cultural heritage value
  • personal history value
  • great public interest

Obviously your assessment as a research expert is key to help determine the future value of the material. For certain research areas there may be specific regulations that apply, for instance clinical pharmaceutical testing are to comply with the rules of the Swedish Medical Products Agency.

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