The conceptual landscape of digital curation

Publication Date12 September 2016
AuthorAlex H. Poole
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
The conceptual landscape
of digital curation
Alex H. Poole
Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to define and describe digital curation, an emerging field of
theory and practice in the information professions that embraces digital preservation, data curation,
and management of information assets over their lifecycle. It dissects key issues and debates in the
area while arguing that digital curation is a vital strategy for dealing with the so-called data deluge.
Design/methodology/approach This paper explores digital curations potential to provide an
improved return on investment in data work.
Findings A vital counterweight to the problem of data loss, digital curation also adds value to
trusted data assets for current and future use. This paper unpacks data, the research enterprise, the
roles and responsibilities of digital curation professionals, the data lifecycle, metadata, sharing and
reuse, scholarly communication (cyberscholarship, publication and citation, and rights), infrastructure
(archives, centers, libraries, and institutional repositories), and overarching issues (standards,
governance and policy, planning and data management plans, risk management, evaluation, and
metrics, sustainability, and outreach).
Originality/value A critical discussion that focusses on North America and the UK, this paper
synthesizes previous findings and conclusions in the area of digital curation. It has value for digital
curation professionals and researchers as well as students in library and information science who may
deal with data in the future. This paper helps potential stakeholders understand the intellectual and
practical framework and the importance of digital curation in adding value to scholarly (science, social
science, and humanities) and other types of data. This paper suggests the need for further empirical
research, not only in exploring the actual sharing and reuse practices of various sectors, disciplines,
and domains, but also in considering the the data lifecycle, the potential role of archivists, funding and
sustainability, outreach and awareness-raising, and metrics.
Keywords Collaboration, Information management, Data, Data handling, Interdisciplinarity,
Data management, Digital curation, Data curation
Paper type Conceptual paper
We swim in a sea of data [] and the sea level is rising rapidly (Anderson and Rainie, 2012).
Virtually no one in academia perceives that they have a professional responsibility or
mandate for research data management functions (Council on Library and Information
Resources, 2013, p. 6).
Contemplating the digital universe is a little like contemplating Avogadros number,
claim Gantz et al. (2008). Its big. Bigger than anything we can touch, feel, or see, and thus
impossible to understand in context(p. 3). IBM concludes, Every day, we create
2.5 quintillion bytes of dataso much that 90% of the data in the world today has been
created in the last two years alone[1].Researchers grapple with a tsunamiof information
that paradoxically feeds the growing scientific output while simultaneously crushing
researchers with its weight(Haendel et al., 2012, p. 1). The data deluge is truly upon us.
That data deluge presents unprecedented challenges in preserving digital assets
across all sectors of society, whether organizational, technological, legal, cultural, or
business. Rothenberg (1995) opts for an apothegm: Digital objects last forever or
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 72 No. 5, 2016
pp. 961-986
©Emerald Group Publis hing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JD-10-2015-0123
Received 3 October 2015
Revised 6 April 2016
Accepted 10 April 2016
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Landscape of
five years, whichever comes first(p. 42). Other scholars worry about the potential loss
of important data, identifying A Public Trust at Risk(Heritage Preservation, 2005),
datasshameful neglect(Nature, 2009), or the specter of a digital dark age
(Bollacker, 2010). Technical obsolescence or fragility, lack of resources, ignorance of
good practices, uncertainty over appropriate infrastructure all constitute serious risks
to data (Harvey, 2010). Digital curation tackles these risks.
This paper concentrates on foundational Anglo-American digital curation
research and practice. It first defines digital curation, discusses its activitie s, and
sets forth the roles and responsibilities of digital curators. Second, it unpacks data and
their role in the research enterprise. Along these lines, it argues for the vital importance
of the data lifecycle and of metadata to digital curation. Third, sharing and reuse of
data are discussed; digital curation facilitates both practices. Fourth, this pa per
addresses researcher behaviors and the ways in which disciplinarity, communities of
practice, and collaboration shape the sharing and reuse of data. Fifth, digital curations
impact upon scholarly communication, namely, on cyberscholarship, publication
and citation, and rights, is diagramed. Sixth, digital curation needs to be embedded in
institutional and scholarly infrastructure: archives, centers, libraries, and institutional
repositories (IRs) are key components of that infrastructure. Seventh, standards,
governance and policy, planning and data management plans (DMPs), riskmanagement,
evaluation, and metrics, sustainability, and outreach represent overarching concerns for
digital curation stakeholders[2]. Finally, directions for future research are suggested.
Digital curation
Digital curation centers on maintaining and adding value to a trusted body of digital
information for current and future use[3].First used in 2001, the term embraces digital
preservation, data curation, and the management of assets over their lifecycle (Lee and
Tibbo, 2007; Yakel, 2007).
Digital curation bridges research, practice, and training across nations, disciplines,
institutions, repositories, and data formats (Gold, 2010; Ray, 2009). Given the diversity of its
stakeholders and of the environments in which it is conducted, it potentially involves anyone
who interacts with digital information during its lifecycle (Dallas, 2007; Winget et al., 2009).
The National Research Council of the National Academies (2015) concludes,
The field has grown from practices hardly recognized as curation per se []to
international consortia engaged in defining shared norms and standards for digital
curation(p. 17). Researchers, moreover, increasingly recognize its salience. One recent
study found that 90 percent of doctoral supervisors, doctoral holders, and students
view digital curation as moderately or extremely important (Abbott, 2015). In spite of
the long-term importance of digital curation, however, researchers often postpone it
(Rusbridge, 2007). This is not necessarily surprising, as they face exigent challenges : a
lack of standards, of a common vocabulary, of authority control(s), of appropriate
hardware and software, and of storage space (Latham and Poe, 2012; Pryor, 2013).
Digital curators
Digital curation implicates roles and responsibilities that meld library and information
science (LIS) and non-LIS domain skills (Vivarelli et al., 2013). Notwithstanding
technical skills, digital curators require so-called soft skills, namely project
management, negotiation, team-building, and collaborative problem solving (Harvey,
2010; Swan and Brown, 2008). Educational programs should therefore cultivate
professional allrounders like a Swiss army knife(Osswald, 2013).

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