Thinking about qualitative data with Juliann Couture

Below, Juliann Couture (CU Boulder) discusses how librarians can support the data needs of qualitative researchers. An experienced social sciences librarian, Juliann is liaison from ACRL-ANSS (the anthropology & sociology librarians’ group) to the American Anthropological Association (AAA) professional association. We’re glad to share her thoughts here!

CE: So what got you involved as a liaison between librarians and researchers?

JC: I got involved because it would let me get more of the perspective of faculty and graduate students, as well as understand their challenges with research and scholarly publishing. With my work with information literacy, I was curious if there were conversations at the scholarly society level about student learning.

…and, spoiler alert: those conversations on student learning aren’t happening!

So what conversations are happening among qualitative researchers?  

[Conversation 1: Data Management]

It’s a lot about scholarly publishing, and issues with data management and data ethics. That was something that came up a lot last year:

  • how do we make our data open and available while protecting the identity of our subjects?
  • how do we make fieldnotes available, and what is our duty when we make those fieldnotes available?
  • are there things that should be retracted, where you can see the general record information but you have to request permission? 

You have to really think about: what’s the timeline there, and who can we make the information open and accessible to, while still protecting those who are involved.

For instance, I was talking with an archaeologist who is doing a lot of great work but trying to figure out the funding model, for how to make archaeology data available. How do people pay to deposit data and make sure it’s available? And data repositories – how do they have sustainable funding and a sustainable model?

[Conversation 2: Sensitive Data]

Another [anthropology] researcher was talking about having a paper published in PLOS ONE and having to make her data available, but concerned about identifiable information.

I asked, “who are you speaking to about this?”

And she said, “I thought I have to figure this out myself.”

I said, “Someone at your library may have this expertise who can assist you. If not at your library, then try your office of research… and here’s this DMP tool. Have you looked at ICPSR for archiving?”

And she was like, “I don’t know what that is.”

So it’s important for faculty to know that there are places that are already doing this: librarians are people that know how to protect your data and make sure it’s sustainable and in file formats that people can access. – Juliann

Sociology/Anthropology Class at UIS
Qualitative researchers often need to guard and share sensitive data.

[Conversation 3: Scholarly Publishing] 

I’m also on the AAA [American Anthropological Association] committee for the future of print and electronic publishing. That means questions like:

  • What’s the future of scholarly publishing?
  • What does the AAA need to do to make its information open and accessible?
  • How do we make sure we still have sustainable funding for the scholarly society?
  • What are other scholarly societies doing? Do we move into data repositories?
  • How do we address federal funding mandates and open access issues?
  • Do we have to have a repository for our researchers who don’t have access to an IR?

I’ve always worked at large research universities. And while state universities have funding limitations, they have resources that other people don’t have. So I ask how we understand what those different institutions are facing… If you’re at a small liberal arts school without a data librarian, how do you know your researchers are having these questions, if they don’t come to you?

You could think, they have it taken care of… but meanwhile the researcher is thinking, I have this requirement and I don’t know what I’m doing.

This sounds similar to issues in open access.

Yes! When researchers hear “do open access,” they say, “I don’t have $3000 for an author fee.”

And I say—there are other models we can look at! Right now, the American Anthropological Association is doing a pilot project where Cultural Anthropology [a premier journal] is completely open access. They’re not charging author fees; they charge a $25 submission fee.

And right now, there’s still a lot of work that a publisher does which often gets overlooked… a lot of copyediting, DOIs, metadata, that stuff on the back end that’s hidden. If it’s done well you don’t notice, but if it’s done poorly you do notice.

That sounds like our work as librarians.

Right! If you have a good user experience, you usually don’t know it. But if you have a bad user experience, you totally know it.

So maybe we don’t have to partner with for-profit publishers… but they do a lot of work to make things accessible and findable, and it does cost money. So scholarly communications is such an important piece right now. It has a lot to do with both, how can we have those conversations on our campus, but also advocate at a national level?

For example, there was a panel at AAA [the anthropological society] last year with Tim Elfenbein, Matt Thompson, and Richard Freeman. One of the things that came up is people who decide they want to start an open access journal, but they might not know how to get an ISSN, put it in the DOAJ, how to make it findable and accessible, how to do copyediting, how to assign a DOI.

So we were talking about… how do we have a toolkit for those who are looking at those open access things, and what might people need?

It sounds like it could be useful for us to collaborate on guides to open access as well as sharing qualitative research data.


…Any other tips for new librarians?

Make connections! I’ve found my professional relationships with librarians so rewarding. Just to be able to talk about our strategies, what works the same and what’s different, is, in my opinion, invaluable.


Thanks again to Juliann for talking with us. Stay tuned for an extension of this interview, coming this fall in the ANSS Currents newsletter!


Do you have a data tale to share? Want to be interviewed? Contact databrarians editor Amanda Rinehart at Please get permission or de-identify before sharing others’ stories: we want to learn and not to expose other learners! 

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