Using Openness as a Foundation for Research Data Management Services

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Vicky Steeves and Nick Wolf | November 19, 2016

Open Source Research Software: Benefits

1. Cost

  • Yes, open source is about transforming certain types of expenses (e.g. license fees) into other types (e.g. salaried/volunteer labor; maintenance costs)
  • Yes, sometimes open source can be more expensive overall once maintenance and personnel are factored in...

    ...though see Wong and Sayo (2003), Russo et al. (2005), Dehinbo & Dehinbo (2013) noting that proprietary software still often outstrips open source in costs

Open Source Research Software: Benefits

1. Cost

  • BUT...Remember that we are talking about research software used by researchers and their community, not enterprise-level library services (most of the current studies only look at open source enterprise-level software)
  • Thus, the line between doing research and building software is to a greater degree the (research) labor also covers development cost

Open Source Research Software: Benefits

We pause to mention:

Open Source Research Software: Benefits

2. Technology

  • Open source development depends on a collaborative community dedicated to uncovering knowledge. That aligns, as Dehinbo & Dehinbo note, with the values of the university
  • Most importantly, open source community of researchers have responsibility for maintenance, requiring an ongoing push against obsolescence and closed code bases

Open Source Research Software: Benefits


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Barriers to Adoption

  • Most researchers want to focus on analysis, and they want it done now (right now) with the closest masterable tool at hand
  • Libraries find it easier to manage workflows and asset management via contracts and license fees
  • Open source research software features a steeper initial learning curve but greater extensibility

Barriers to Adoption

Researcher Reactions


"I don't have time to teach myself or my students a new tool."

"I won't be as supported as I am with XYZ company."

"I don't trust tools without a company behind it. Who knows if it'll go away?"

Post OSS

"This made my research more reproducible!"

"The community provides great resources for learning."

"I've actually contributed to the software! Awesome!"

The goal is to encourage the community to consciously choose open tools to increase interoperability & sustainability of their research.

Solutions: Teaching with OSS

All of our classes use exclusively open source software, languages, and tools:

Scale Up: OSF for Institutions
A free and open source project management tool that connects researchers to the tools they are already using to make management easier through the research cycle. Institutional versions provide branding and SSO integration for users.

Solutions: Teaching with OSS

26 classes since August 2015 | Average 56% attendance rate

Solutions: Teaching with OSS

Most seen groups: Masters & PhD students, & staff

Solutions: Teaching with OSS

Most seen schools: CAS, Other, Steinhardt, & Engineering

Solutions: Teaching with OSS


And of source curriculum:


Why do this?

  1. Practice what we preach.
  2. Version our slides easily.
  3. Avoid link rot!
  4. Give back to community! You all can use our stuff (CC!)

Solutions: Consulting using OSS

If a patron comes to us asking for advice on a tool, we recommend only open source tools, across disciplines and request types.

Solutions: Consulting using OSS

Lots of times, people come to us with weird formats, and after we help them migrate (to an open format), it's a great chance to help them switch tools.


Open Science Framework, NYU Box, NYU Drive, DMPTool


MAMP Database stack, Mallet, NexusDB, Microsoft Access, LibreBase, ReproZip, Auto FTP, Cyberduck

Solutions: Consulting using OSS

Schools we see the most: CAS, Gallatin, Engineering, Steinhardt

Bottom Line

By teaching the benefits and the nitty-gritty of open source software, and by assisting patrons 1-1 or in groups to switch to these tools, we are hoping to increase the interoperability of their research.

We've scaled up by:

  • Offering an increased number of classes, both library and embedded, to the community.
  • Bringing the OSF for Institutions to NYU.

Sources and Credits

Dehinbo, Kehinde O. and Johnson O. Dehinbo (2013). "Towards Suitable Research Paradigm for Assessing the Impact of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)," Proceedings of the World Congress on Engineering and Computer Science, vol. I, October 23-25.

Russo, B., et al. (2005) "Defining TCO for the Transition to Open Source Systems," Proceedings of the First International Conference on Open Source (OSS2005), ed. M. Scotto and G. Succi (Genoa): 108-12.

Wong, K. and P. Sayo (2003), "Free/Open Source Software: A General Introduction," Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme e-Primers on Free/Open Software.


Wrench and Social Network, CC license, Creative Stall, Noun Project

Management, CC license, Tomas Knopp, Noun Project

Car Crash, CC License, Raz Cohen, Noun Project


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Tweet us: @VickySteeves & @nicholasmwolf

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