Associate Professor, Data Librarian
Montana State University
Big social data (such as social media and blogs) and archived qualitative data (such as interview transcripts and diaries) are similar, but their respective communities of practice are under-connected. Both types of research repurpose existing social data to advance discoveries in social science. Both also present challenges of context, informed consent, privacy and confidentiality, and intellectual property. However, despite these similarities, big social research has not yet been widely framed as a form of qualitative data reuse, and qualitative data reuse has only begun to be discussed through a big social data lens. Qualitative data reuse is a more established practice, and therefore has more developed data stewardship strategies to support epistemologically-sound, ethical, and legal data sharing. Data stewardship strategies that support responsible reuse of qualitative data include data management planning, metadata schemes, and restricted access. However, issues still exist, including issues around scaling up qualitative research by combining archived data to support longitudinal studies and broader insights. Data stewardship for big social data is less well-developed, and there is little consensus about how to maintain balance between transparency and protecting research subjects. While data stewardship practices could alleviate some challenges, such practices are still in development. This project briefing suggests that librarians and data curators can use the robust data stewardship practices that support qualitative data reuse to inform similar practices to support responsible sharing and archiving for big social data.