Data Curation

I had the opportunity to attend the Digital Humanities Winter Institute (DHWI) at the University of Maryland in January. While there I attended a weeklong class on Data Curation; the content of the course resonated with me in terms of challenges Davidson, and the archives in particular, will face as we continue along the Digital Studies Initiative.

First a definition is in order. Trevor Muñoz, one of the course instructors, an Assistant Dean for the University of Maryland libraries, and a frequent author and speaker on digital humanities offered this description:

“Data curation addresses the challenges of maintaining digital information that is produced in the course of research in a manner that preserves its meaning and usefulness as a potential input for further research.”

I really like this definition, as it is an affirmation that once we “curate” the data it will serve some purpose besides gathering “digital mold” on a server somewhere.

There are many reasons researchers should care about data curation. The phrase “potential input for further research” immediately comes to mind. The future research might be our own, and it is in our self-interest to curate our own data effectively. Who among us hasn’t struggled to recall or access data we created years ago at some point in our careers? Another really good reason is that many funding agencies, including the NIH, NSF, and NEH are requiring data management/curation plans and follow-through as a condition of grants.

There are many resources available to help researchers plan and execute data curation plans. Not surprisingly, the resource I want to discuss further is the library and archives. Why would you want our help?

Librarians and archivists are experts on organizing and retrieving information. We also do a pretty good job evaluating what is worth keeping and not.

  • With infrastructure like institutional repositories we are already well situated to store data.
  • It makes sense to develop a centralized service for learning to create data management plans so that each researcher doesn’t have to gain the skill. Many libraries are providing this service already.
  • We are already working in the digital arena with our own projects and thinking about and solving some of the same problems you will have. Have a look at the Archives Website to look at some of our digital projects.

In the library we are just starting to think about this service, but if you are interested, come to talk to us about making it our problem.

Check back occasionally for updates on services and further discussion of the topic.