“Let's call the whole thing off" … (the weirdest title for the first post of a blog)

It looks as if we two never will be one, something must be done (sing-along reading is encouraged): you say Data Curation and I say Digital Curation, you say Digital Stewardship and I say Digital Preservation, ... 

The famous song by George and Ira Gershwin I have played with above depicts a playful quarrel of lovers whose affaire appears to be doomed by their disparate social origins. A similar “dialectical” differentiation has been promoted by the disciplines within the domain of Library and Information Sciences on the ground of their differences in operational contexts, professional competences and theoretical scopes. More often than not, the educational objectives of research institutions have contributed to create such distinctions too, for example promoting legacy specialisations or, on the contrary, launching new curricula.

Apparently, commentators of this disciplinary specialisation tend to identify this phenomenon with a conceptual refinement of the operational answer to the same and persistent group of issues. But in doing so, they do not account for the survival of former disciplinary definitions even in advanced research centres with a competing academic production in Library and Information Sciences. In effect, Julia Flander and Trevor Muñoz have warned not to overlook this terminology variations (Flanders & Muñoz 2011).

So, which differences in competences actually divide Data Curation, Digital Preservation, Digital Archiving, Digital Curation and Digital Stewardship?

The Graduate School of Library and Information Science of the University of Illinois pitch its master courses defining Data Curation as “the active and ongoing management of data through its lifecycle of interest and usefulness to scholarship, science, and education” and add that “Data curation enables data discovery and retrieval, maintains data quality, adds value, and provides for re-use over time through activities including authentication, archiving, management, preservation, and representation” (http://www.lis.illinois.edu/academics/programs/ms/data_curation, last accessed Dec 2012).

The Digital Preservation Coalition defines Digital Preservation as “series of managed activities necessary to ensure continued access to digital materials for as long as necessary” (http://www.dpconline.org/advice/preservationhandbook/introduction/definitions-and-concepts).

Since the publication of “Preserving Digital Information” (Waters & Garrett 1996), the term Digital Archiving appears paired with Digital Preservation and has been defined by Gail M. Hodge as “the long-term storage, preservation and access to information that is "born digital" (created and disseminated primarily in electronic form) or for which the digital version is considered to be the primary archive” (Hodge 2000).

The Digital Curation Centre defines Digital Curation as “maintaining, preserving and adding value to digital research data throughout its lifecycle” (http://www.dcc.ac.uk/digital-curation/what-digital-curation). Similarly, Neil Beagrie asserted that this discipline addresses “the actions needed to maintain digital research data and other digital materials over their entire life-cycle and over time for current and future generations of users”(Beagrie 2008).

The Office for Information Systems of the Harvard University Library defines Digital Stewardship as “the management of digital objects over the long term through careful digital asset management practices”, that is to “acquire, manage, organize, preserve, and provide access to massive amounts of data for use and re-use by a variety of interdisciplinary and heterogeneous communities over time” (Besser 2009).

The chronological sequence of this definitions really looks like to hint at a progressive expansion of the academic interest in the management of digital assets in terms of both practices and repertory, most notably the passage from the focus on e-science products to data pertaining to undefined groups of stakeholders. On the other, despite some authors admit to use some of these discipline titles interchangeably (Lazorchak 2011), they patently emphasise different operative contexts and suggest distinct professional and academic scopes.

Evidently, the sum of these fields is bigger than its parts. It is not casual that the debate between and within these discipline is often addressing the question of the competences' convergence in the management of digital assets, in fact.

I embarked on this brief (and partial) and dangerous presentation of these small terminology variations ushering to disciplines' complex definitions to answer another questions: why this investigation has been pitched and defended as a Digital Curation initiative?

The answer will come in the next blog post.


  • Beagrie, N., 2008. Digital curation for science, digital libraries, and individuals. International Journal of Digital Curation, 1(1), pp.3–16.
  • Besser, H., 2009. In a Digital World, Image & Sound Collections require Stewardship: Selection, Curation, Preservation, Presentation. Available at: http://besser.tsoa.nyu.edu/howard/Talks/imagem-som.pdf [Accessed December 13, 2012].
  • Flanders, J. & Muñoz, T., 2011. An Introduction to Humanities Data Curation. DH Curation Guide.
  • Hodge, G.M., 2000. Best Practices for Digital Archiving. D-Lib Magazine, 6(1). Available at: http://www.dlib.org/dlib/january00/01hodge.html [Accessed December 13, 2012].
  • Lazorchak, B., 2011. Digital Preservation, Digital Curation, Digital Stewardship: What’s in (Some) Names? | The Signal: Digital Preservation. Available at: http://blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/2011/08/digital-preservation-digital-curation-digital-stewardship-what%E2%80%99s-in-some-names/ [Accessed December 13, 2012].
  • Waters, D. & Garrett, J., 1996. Preserving Digital Information, Report of the Task Force on Archiving of Digital Information, Available at: http://confifap.cpic.ru/upload/spb2004/reports/dokladEn_172.doc [Accessed December 13, 2012].

POSTED BY Ruggero Lancia