The issues surrounding the use, supply, and management of water are of growing in importance to the academic, policy, and business communities. Water issues permeate a number of related areas (agriculture, environment, geology) and inform countless research areas in the Humanities and Social Sciences (including history, political science, cultural studies, law, public policy, etc).
A variety of types of organizations produce, collect, and distribute water resource data. These organizations include federal, state, regional, local government agencies, NGOs, development organizations, for-profit service and consulting firms, and others. The aims of these organizations and the methods they employ vary widely. Primary source material related to water comes in many forms and formats, including (but not limited to):
- Documents (technical reports; statistical summaries; maps; photographs; agency records; legal documents, agreements, and compacts; and certain agency publications and reports)
- Data (tabular compilations of measurements, census information, statistical compilations; spatial information from observation station measurements; shapefiles; GIS-enabled data sets) in print and electronic format.
- Applications and tools measure, study, and utilize the output of the above.
The principal challenge for librarians and archivists is how to identify, utilize, and integrate the growing body of data produced in the abovementioned formats. Archival collections and data sets are managed and used in fundamentally different ways, challenging seamless use by researchers. While current reports and data are increasingly made accessible online by the various producing agencies, those agencies’ practices and policies on retention and availability of non-current information vary. Even where information is online for public use, the lack of uniformity of standards, display methods, and application of metadata make it extremely difficult for users to discover potentially relevant information.
A growing awareness of these challenges have led to progress in the presentation and management of water-related resources, as seen in collaborative projects such as the Western Waters Digital Library and the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc. (CUAHSI) Hydrologic Information System. However, greater attention to common standards, services, and long-term management policies are needed to provide for the needs of scholars, researchers, and policy makers.