A review of digital curation professional competencies: theory and current practices

Published date19 March 2018
Date19 March 2018
AuthorYuanyuan Feng,Lorraine Richards
A review of digital curation
professional competencies:
theory and current practices
Yuanyuan Feng and Lorraine Richards
College of Computing and Informatics, Drexel University, Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, USA
Purpose The purpose of this paperis to examine the concept of professional competency in current digital
curationliterature through the lens of competency theoriesin management science and organizational studies.
This paper also aims to provide recommendations to articulate and expand professional competencies in
future digitalcuration research and professional education.
Design/methodology/approach The outcomes presented in this paper are based on a multi-
disciplinary literature review and a qualitative content analysis. The literature review explores theoretical
foundations of professional competency in management science and organizational studies and how the
concept of professional competency is used in digital curation literature. The content analysis scrutinizes
16 digital curationpublications that have discussed professionalcompetency, with an in-depth examination of
seven empiricalstudies in these publications.
Findings The ndings include: the concept of professionalcompetency is inconsistently used in digital
curation literature,the digital curation literature exhibits disparatecoverage of different types of professional
competencies, and the digital curation empirical studies often narrowly operationalize the concept of
professional competencybut the empirical studies using multiple or in-depth qualitative methods yield more
comprehensivendings reecting a broader scope of the concept.
Originality/value Although past research focused on the competencies required for digital curation,
there is no research scrutinizing the conceptualconstruct of professional competency in the digital curation
literature. This paper will be of value to digital curation researchers and educators to better determine the
competenciesneeded for digital curators as an emerging profession.
Keywords Content analysis, Competency theories, Digital curation, Digital curation education,
Professional competencies
Paper type General review
Digital curation is an emerging professional and research area in archival science,
information science andrecords management studies. The National Research Councilof the
USA, in its intensive study of digitalcuration, found that:
Demands for readily accessible, accurate, useful, and usable digital information from researchers,
information-intensive industries, and consumers have exposed limitations, vulnerabilities, and
missed opportunities for science, business, and government, as a result of the immaturity and ad
hoc nature of digital curation. There is also a push for greater openness and transparency across
many sectors of society. Taken together, these factors are creating an urgent need for policies,
services,technologies, and expertisein digital curation (TheNational Research Council, 2015,p.15).
Digital curation is a relatively new concept that attempts to bridge boundaries among
archivists, librarians, records managers and other information professionals. Its tasks and
Received7 September 2016
Revised16 February 2017
7 May2017
Accepted2 June 2017
RecordsManagement Journal
Vol.28 No. 1, 2018
pp. 62-78
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/RMJ-09-2016-0022
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
goals are remarkably such as those of archivists and records managers, who, in a digital
world, must begin planning for and managing data early in the records life cycle to ensure
that long-term preservation occurs in spite of evolving formats and rapid technological
obsolescence. Thus, moreand more archivists and records managers are engaging in digital
curation activities, even ifthey are not aware of it. With its focus on ensuring access, it also
relates closely to theactivities of librarians and archivists.
According to Beagrie (2008), the term rst arose in 2001 during the Digital Curation:
Digital Archives, Libraries and E-Science Seminarsponsored by the Digital Preservation
Coalition and the British National Space Centreto establish dialog among archivists, library
and information managementspecialists and data managers in e-Science (the term e-Science
is used in Britain roughlyanalogously to the way Cyberinfrastructureis used in the USA).
The term digital curationwasdesigned to avoid confusion with a few other terms, such as
digital preservation,”“digital archivingand digital records management,which were
inconsistentlyused in different professional circles.
The denition of digital curation has been improvedand articulated since then. Giaretta
and Rankin (2005) distinguished digital curation from other related terms as looking after
and somehow adding valueto digital data, which led to the Joint Information System
Committees ( JISC) denition of the term as maintaining and adding value to a trusted body
of digital information for current and future use, specically the active management and
appraisal of data over the entire life cycle[the Joint Information System Committee (JISC),
2006]. Yakel (2007, p. 338) pointed out that the term digital curation reected the life cycle
activities related to research or e-Science data, and it can be used as the umbrella term for
digital preservation, data curation, digital assets and electronic records management.
Finally, Digital Curation Centre (DCC) (2010a) summarizes that Digital curation involves
maintaining, preserving and addingvalue to digital research data throughout its lifecycle,
and it asserts that the digital curation comprises a range of activities that promote the
maintenance, accessibility,and preservation of digital data.
Thus, within this article, digital curationrefers to the range of activities required to
manage, maintain, preserve andensure access to digital information. As we focus on digital
curation activities spanning across the digital informations entire life cycle rather than
focusing on the specic use of theterm digital curation, the literature discussed within this
article also encompasses related areas where digital curation activities are fundamental to
these areas, such as data curation, digital preservation, electronic records management,
e-Science and digitallibrarianship.
As digital curation becomes a rising research and professional eld, Yakel et al. (2011)
predict a growing need for a new generation of information professionalswho can perform
digital curation activitiesin the digital environment. These professionals are often known as
digital curators. To meet such requirements, educators and researchers have examined the
competencies that are essential for this emerging type of information professional.
Meanwhile, academic and professional institutions have initiated educational and training
programs to prepare future digital curators. Many current programs take a relatively
pragmatic approach that emphasizes digital curation skills that are currently needed, but
fewer programs adopt a competency-based approach that aims to build a range of
competencies that are neededfor digital curation work. Competency-based approaches have
been increasingly accepted in professional education and training around the world (Le
Deist and Winterton, 2005); it is time tocomprehensively examine digital curation from the
perspective of professionalcompetency.
Competency-based approaches provide a wider conceptual framework that captures
more essential activities and better represents the totality of digital curation work, thereby
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