Digital curation: the development of a discipline within information science

Publication Date08 October 2018
Date08 October 2018
AuthorSarah Higgins
SubjectLibrary & information science,Records management & preservation,Document management,Classification & cataloguing,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Scholarly communications/publishing,Information & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information management,Information & communications technology,Internet
Digital curation: the development
of a discipline within
information science
Sarah Higgins
Department of Information Management, Libraries and Archives,
Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, UK
Purpose Digital curation addresses the technical, administrative and financial ecology required to ensure
that digital information remains accessible and usable over the long term. The purpose of this paper is to trace
digital curations disciplinary emergence and examine its position within the information sciences domain in
terms of theoretical principles, using a case study of developments in the UK and the USA.
Design/methodology/approach Theoretical principlesregardingdisciplinarydevelopmentand the identity
of informationscience as a disciplineare applied to a casestudy of the developmentof digital curation in theUK
and the USA to identify the maturity of digital curation and its position in the information science gamut.
Findings Digital curation is identified as a mature discipline which is a sub-meta-discipline of information
science. As such digital curation has reach across all disciplines and sub-disciplines of information science
and has the potential to become the overarching paradigm.
Practical implications These findings could influence digital curations development from applied
discipline to profession within both its educational and professional domains.
Originality/value The disciplinary development of digital curation within dominant theoretical models
has not hitherto been articulated.
Keywords Development, History, Models, Education, Professional associations, Digital curation
Paper type Conceptual paper
With the embedding of personal computers and hand-held devices into modern society
digital information has become ubiquitous, reaching into every aspect of our personal and
professional lives and creating new ways of learning, working and undertaking research.
Digital information is increasing exponentially (Domo, 2017) and this digital information
needs to be effectively managed if it is to be used and reused by society. Digital curation has
emerged over the last 20 years as a new discipline from within the information sciences
umbrella that addresses the technical, administrative and financial ecology required to
maintain access to digital material through organisational and technical changes over the
long term (Abbott, 2008; Digital Curation Centre, 2005a; Higgins, 2011; Kim et al., 2013, p. 67;
Pennock, 2007; Tibbo, 2012, pp. 2-3; Tibbo and Lee, 2010, p. 126). The disciplines origins lie
in two parallel early information science research foci. The first from the archives and
records discipline concentrated on the preservation of electronic materials maintaining the
bit-stream of those records and archives we would now call born-digital (Day, 1997; Hirtle,
2008, p. 125; Marc Fresko Consultancy, 1996). The second from a library science focus on
what was then called digital preservation producing digital surrogates of analogue
material through digitisation to increase their lifespan (Hirtle, 2008, pp. 124-125).
As information becomes increasingly digital, digital curation would now seem to be a
discipline that reaches into all sub-disciplines of information science while maintaining
obvious synergies with the discipline of computer science. This paper will investigate how
digital curation has developed into a mature discipline in its own right and identify where
this new discipline sits within the overarching aegis of information science. As debate
continues regarding the disciplines focus and status, and appropriate education and
training for digital curators (Bettivia, 2017; Higgins, 2017; Kilbride, 2017; Schisler, 2017),
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 74 No. 6, 2018
pp. 1318-1338
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/JD-02-2018-0024
Received 9 February 2018
Revised 8 April 2018
Accepted 3 May 2018
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
understanding its disciplinary developmental status, and its place within the information
sciences domain, can inform practitioners and educators of the boundaries and reach of their
discipline so that effort and resource can be expended appropriately.
The nature of a discipline
In his critique of capitalist society, Foucault identified that disciplinary methods are adopted
in response to particular needs(Foucault, 1975, p. 138) as societies and economies change
and develop. He identified that a disciplinary society adopts techniques for assuring order
and embedding power structures by enclosing and organising analytical spaces. Although
critical of the use of discipline to maintain power positions and feed the state, his work
illuminates how these organised analytical spaces become academic disciplines through
rigorous pedagogical organisation, the development of hierarchies of specialisation, and
stages of increasing difficulty through which individuals need to progress to master a
subject (Foucault, 1975). Detailed characterisation, classification and specialisation develop
firm foundations to embed disciplines as distinct knowledge bases, with contextualised
research theories and methods, and acknowledged scholars (Foucault, 1975; Dirks, 1996;
Schommer-Aikins et al., 2003; Cohen and Lloyd, 2014):
The disciplines characterize, classify, specialize; they distribute along a scale, around a norm,
hierarchize individuals in relation to one another and, if necessary, disqualify and invalidate.
(Foucault, 1975, p. 223)
Krishnan (2009, p. 9) identifies six stages that progress in a linear fashion to the mature definition
of a discipline: a particular object of research, a body of accumulated specialist knowledge,
theories and concepts to effectively organise this specialist knowledge, specific language, specific
research methods and institutional recognition through university or college level education.
Bawden and Robinson (2012, p. 10) note the foundation of representative professional bodies as
the first sign of public recognition adding a seventh stage to the progression (Figure 1).
The common understanding of specialist knowledge surrounding an academic discipline
is inherited, entrenched and reproduced through learning and teaching (Krishnan, 2009, p. 9;
Body of
Higher or
Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4 Stage 5 Stage 6 Stage 7
Sources: After Bawden and Robinson (2012); Krishnan (2009)
Figure 1.
The developmental
stages of a discipline

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