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Magazines > Information Today > July/August 2010

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Information Today

Vol. 27 No. 7 — Jul/Aug 2010

The VIVO Wish List
by Barbara Brynko

With the first annual National VIVO Conference set for Aug. 12 and 13 at the New York Hall of Science, the VIVO teams are moving their respective projects to the front burner to get them ready for the big event.

The 2-day conference will gather interested parties—from developers and scientists to publishers and funding agencies—for a series of workshops, tutorials, and sessions revolving around the National Network of Scientists. That’s when the VIVO teams will unveil the progress they’ve made on the VIVO NIH U24RR029822 project so far.

For the past 7 months, more than 100 people from the seven participating universities and institutions involved in the pilot project have branched out into VIVO’s implementation and development teams to build the infrastructure and add the data to support the network. One of the VIVO teams has focused its efforts on outreach to gather information about user needs, wish lists, and operability.

Developing a Showcase

As part of the VIVO outreach team at the University of Florida (UF), Michele Tennant, bioinformatics librarian, says that data is still being ingested from a variety of sources to complete the profiles in UF’s network. But as the data ingest process nears completion, the network structure is beginning to take shape. “Now, what we’re starting to do is build a few showcase departments with complete profiles, including CV [curriculum vitae] data and photos,” she says. The goal is to have several examples that can be used as demos of what the network will look like and how it will function.

At the larger institutions, the library was the natural go-to place to get feedback and direction from faculty and administrators. “We’ve been engaging many of our faculty and administrators who we work with on other projects through the library,” says Kristi Holmes, bioinformaticist at Washington University School of Medicine. “We’ve been asking them questions to get an understanding of what their needs are and what they’d like to see in the system.” As more presentations are given on campus, more people are getting involved in informal ways as well.

“The library is usually a very trusted source,” says Tennant. “We like to say that the library is the heart of the university.” For starters, she points to the varied skills librarians have in information management, in providing instruction, in marketing daily programs, and in developing strong liaison programs. Librarians have the advantage of being able to see a system from many levels, and she should know. She’s a librarian.

Tennant says her team has been conducting faculty focus groups through the library “to see what the faculty members are interested in, what social networking tools they use now, what they imagine VIVO to be, and what is important to them,” she says. “We also have a very strong liaison librarian program to serve particular units on campus, either full colleges or departments who will be meeting with faculty and getting the word out.”

For smaller institutions, such as the Ponce School of Medicine, Richard Noel Jr., associate professor of biochemistry, says the sizable demands of the project at his institution are being met by a handful of people, chiefly through email and personal contact. “There are no strong initiatives being presented through a centralized institution like the library, so this is something we are doing through person-to-person interaction,” he says. While the individual institutions are developing their own marketing strategies, there’s still a central outreach group to provide basic information and answer individual questions. “We’re also just sharing experiences with each other pretty regularly,” he says, “and customizing things as we go along.”

At the Ponce School, Noel says the VIVO team is uploading as much information as possible in stages before contacting the investigators and department heads. “We want to get to the point where the records are relatively complete for them to look over and modify it as they wish,” he says.

Assuring Data Privacy

“People can be concerned about privacy issues when they first hear about the VIVO project and until they understand that the data feeding into VIVO is all public,” says Holmes. “We’ve been very careful to only pull in publicly available information for security concerns.” Getting the word out about what data is actually being used is critical in assuring a collective buy-in to faculty and administrators.

“It’s been a big learning experience. I’m not a very tech-savvy person,” says Noel. “I’m more of a research scientist really.” But the teams working on the VIVO project have “gelled well” because their commitment, enthusiasm, and interest have been really high. Some people at the University of Florida and Cornell University started out on the project having some familiarity with the VIVO, he says, which may have worked to their advantage.

But Tennant says that although UF had a previous version of VIVO (GatorScholar) 6 months or a year before the grant, there were only a handful of people on campus who actually knew much about it. If you’re working with people at six other institutions, you don’t get to meet face to face very often, she says. “For most of us, it’s been amazing how many components go into making this project work,” she says. “There has to be an ontology team, [and] there has to be an outreach and marketing team; everyone is involved in building user scenarios.”

Getting the project to this point has taken collaboration and sweat equity. “When we were putting the proposal together, we certainly understood that there were rules that we would need to establish,” says Holmes. “But as Rick [Noel] mentioned, it’s been a very organic process, as we move forward, we can identify specific needs in the project. The team comes together and identifies a few core individuals who can shepherd these tasks through completion.” She’s the first to admit that her foray into semantic web technology initially required lots of extra reading in the evening, so she could answer questions and understand what was happening as part of the outreach team.

So far, the VIVO teams have encountered little to no resistance on the seven campuses. “Feedback? I have had a few comments, but most of them have been very positive,” says Holmes. “Everybody wishes it was a done deal and ready a week ago.”

Barbara Brynko is Editor-in-Chief of Information Today. Send your comments about this article to
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