16 May 2014

Digital Curation #1

This is the first one in a series of posts reflecting on the current UCL course on digital curation. It runs for eight weeks and offers an interactive introduction to the ideas and activities around digital curation. I will also share some resources dug up by the course organiser, participants and myself as I go along.

To start with, it is sensible to ask yourself what digital curation means. Even though the concept is relatively new it finds application in practically all contexts where the terms ‘digital library’ and 'digital stuff' pop up.

William Kilbride of the Digital Preservation Coalition hits the nail on the head with his higher order ideas in reflection of digital curation as a complex activity (check this video at 0.42 and 3.10). Importantly, he also considers the consequences if this activity is not conducted effectively (see video at 3.10).

So what then is digital curation? There are many and varied perceptions out there. A singular and all-encompassing definition does not exist. The DDC for example defines digital curation as ‘maintaining, preserving and adding value to digital research data throughout its lifecycle’. It’s well worth your while to check out their circular curation lifecycle model (located here). It neatly describes the core ingredients of what is, essentially, a complex and multi-layered process with the devil being hidden in the detail.

The what-does-digital-curation-mean-to-me discussion on one of the course forums offers some interesting takes on the subject. More questions are raised as opposed to definitive answers provided. Personal and institutional contexts offer interesting insights here. Below is a selection of ideas that caught my eye.
  • Curating records is linked closely to the process of appraising records following specific criteria (provenance, content, condition, potential use etc.) 
  • Digital curation is an essentially collaborative process
  • The digital curator supports machines to provide technical interpretation
  • DC are technical and interpretive actions including storage, access, interpretation, and/or dissemination of digital content within organised units of information
  • To digitise or not to digitise, that is the question!
  • I’d be more interested in knowing who is behind the interpretation (institution/group/individual etc.)
A recent and most interesting LoC blog post raises the point that the popular treatment of the term ‘curation’ has, literally, gone nuts.

My take on this mix is that the key challenges in digital curation rest not so much on the technical plane. The technical aspect is of course important but can be carefully considered from the outset and monitored once the lifecycle process kicks in. Instead, the selection/appraisal process of source materials is what hugely complicates the process. What is, indeed, ‘worthy’ of selection for lifecycle treatment, and consequently open for continuous, public (democratic) consumption in the first place? In that sense, I’m in line with Hirji’s take on the quandary of digital curation: the role of the professional curator making the ultimate judgement as to what is worth keeping and preserving is a very powerful one indeed.

Some follow-up resources:
Timeline: Digital Technology and Preservation (forms part of the Digital Preservation Management: Implementing Short-Term Strategies for Long-Term Solutions, online tutorial developed for the Digital Preservation Management workshop, developed and maintained by Cornell University Library, 2003-2006; extended and maintained by ICPSR, 2007-2012; and now extended and maintained by MIT Libraries, 2012-on)
Digital Curation (The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of development and recent focus on digital curation and ties it to larger cyberinfrastructure initiatives.)


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