Few points to stop worrying and love Digital Curation

Having settled that the variation among competing terms describing the activity of managing digital products is due to more than confusion or carelessness, in order to expand on the unique scope of this project, it is worth to explain the affiliation of this research to the Digital Curation field. Let's put aside here any obvious genealogical consideration arising from the context where this research developed and now is hosted, that is the HATII, a world leading institution in this field.

So, which aspects of the Digital Curation approach to investigation and curatorial practice are crucial for this investigation?

First, the investigative and operative repertory of Digital Curation is not uniquely represented by research data or other akin controlled productions.

It is true that because of its institutional mission, the Digital Curation Centre has given prominence to research and authoritative data as its investigation and activities repertory (DCC 2013) but individual authors have defined more widely the Digital Curation objects of interest as the entire production of digital assets in our society, including personal digital collections (Beagrie 2008).

In consequence, if the disciplinary classification of a repertory does not constitute its exclusive curatorial scope, we are left with the option to define our objects of study by their performative context. Since diverse and even conflictual needs and objectives producing and dealing with the same typologies of data could arise in distinct operative conditions, this approach could lead to overlapping and contradictory recommendations and investigations results. Nevertheless, by emphasising the performative characteristics of digital assets, the specific curatorial issues of a repertory are addressed also from the standpoint of its principal custodians and long-term potential users – its stakeholders. This attitude toward curation results particularly important to support the survival of data whose conservation, despite its importance for the collectivity, is neither regulated nor supported through archival ingestion, in fact.

Second, Digital Curation curricula have often given emphasis to the interdisciplinary approach to curation by presenting the curator competences at the convergence of Library, Museum and Computer Studies (Tammaro, Madrid, and Casarosa 2012) , but, opposite to the Digital Stewardship approach, the responsibilities the digital curator is charged when acting upon the products of a specific community of practice may actually request its professional knowledge to coincide with the one of the data stakeholders.

This aspect of the digital curator role can be interpreted as an implication of the very terminology adopted by this discipline.

Neil Beagrie explains the term Digital Curation was originally coined to bridge the Library and Museum sectors and the Biological Sciences adopting the traditional Museum curator role as a fundamental reference for the definition of the discipline's scope (Beagrie 2008). Despite the recent fortune of the appellation 'curator' in commercial and creative initiatives has tended to narrow the general understanding of its activities down to the selection of assets (Williams 2009), the direct responsibilities of this role on a collection include its interpretation, study, care, management, development and dissemination (Ruge 2008). Despite evidences have been reported hinting at a professional isolation of digital archivists and librarians' competences (Kim, Warga, and Moen 2012), that would mismatch the roles of museum and digital curators, every curatorial operation may be associated to corresponding digital tasks. Through this identification, the digital curator becomes both a competent interpreter of the products stakeholders' needs and objectives, and an active member of a specific community of practice. In the ImageStore Project, part of the DCC SCARP initiative, this immersive approach to the study of data creators working practices has been dubbed 'sheer curation' (Miles 2013), where the term sheer stays for transparent or unobtrusive.

Third, since the Digital Curation approach to data life-cycle introduces curatorial attentions into every step in the creation and management of digital assets, the responsibility over authoritativeness and long-term retention of data main characteristics results shared across all the assets' stakeholders, including producers, especially where policies do not regulate curatorial actions.

The DCC lifecycle model renders actions and events for a successful curation of products at a high-level of abstraction where actors and contexts are not made explicit. In particular, the introductory stage of data lifecycle, 'Conceptualisation', could equally apply to the speculation over the transformations to be applied to data before archival ingestion as to the planning of a digitisation campaign. At the subsequent stage, denominated 'Create or Receive', the ambiguity between the archival or productive context of the activities on the data is even more patent suggesting the curatorial digital workflow has a predominant performative character which can be amply interpreted by diverse stakeholders, even of the same repertory (Higgins 2008).

If every actor in the production and management of data may pursue specific curatorial objectives and apply specific procedures without detriment to the repertory as a whole, the responsibility over the data curation necessarily results collective. From this standpoint, a distributed responsibility over assets curation implies that stakeholders might consciously contribute toward both selected data characteristics long-term retention and legal management of their data. Problematically, the actual curatorial competences of data stakeholders are probably far from commensurate with these responsibilities in much fields and their lack hints to the need for both integrating curricula and continuous education programs with digital curation notions and balance education with policies enforcement where products of public interests are involved.

These three points synthetically define the disciplinary and operative context of this project and point out its main objective – to coordinate the stakeholders' specific curatorial needs in the production and management of Built Environment related digital products to support the creation of a coherent information body maintained along its lifecycle and across its application contexts through agreed procedures and requirements.

  • Beagrie, N. 2008. “Digital Curation for Science, Digital Libraries, and Individuals.” International Journal of Digital Curation 1 (1): 3–16.
  • DCC. 2013. “What Is Digital Curation? | Digital Curation Centre.” Accessed January 16. http://www.dcc.ac.uk/digital-curation/what-digital-curation.
  • Higgins, Sarah. 2008. “The DCC Curation Lifecycle.” The International Journal of Digital Curation 3 (1): 134–140.
  • Kim, Jeonghyun, Edward Warga, and William Moen. 2012. “Digital Curation in the Academic Library Job Market.” In Proceedings of the 75th ASIS&T Annual MeetingInformation, Interaction, Innovation. Vol. 49. Baltimore, Maryland: Richard B. Hill. https://www.asis.org/asist2012/proceedings/Submissions/283.pdf.
  • Miles, Alistair. 2007. “Zoological Case Studies in Digital Curation – DCC SCARP / ImageStore.” Alistair Miles. Accessed January 21. http://alimanfoo.wordpress.com/2007/06/27/zoological-case-studies-in-digital-curation-dcc-scarp-imagestore/.
  • Ruge, Angelika. 2008. “Museum Professions - A European Frame of Reference”. ICOM. http://icom.museum/fileadmin/user_upload/pdf/professions/frame_of_reference_2008.pdf.
  • Tammaro, Anna Maria, Melody Madrid, and Vittore Casarosa. 2012. “Digital Curators’ Education: Professional Identity Vs. Convergence of LAM (Libraries, Archives, Museums).” In Digital Libraries and Archives: 8th Italian Research Conference IRCDL 2012, Bari, Italy, 184–194. Bari, Italy: Springer Verlag.
  • Williams, Alex. 2009. “On the Tip of Creative Tongues.” The New York Times, October 4, sec. Fashion & Style. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/04/fashion/04curate.html.

POSTED BY Ruggero Lancia