Digital Curation: A How‐to‐do‐it Manual

Alan Howell (Alan Howell Web Design, Australia)

Library Management

ISSN: 0143-5124

Article publication date: 25 October 2011



Howell, A. (2011), "Digital Curation: A How‐to‐do‐it Manual", Library Management, Vol. 32 No. 8/9, pp. 635-638.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

In the late twentieth century dire predictions were made about the record of society in digital format. In 1997 Terry Kuny coined the phrase “digital dark ages” to emphasise the consequence of information preservation lagging behind its exponential growth.

A decade later the hyperbole has subsided. The “call to action” has been heeded; business, education, government and industry are aware of the issue; mature digital preservation programs exist and the professional literature is in its third generation.

Lifecycle conceptual models have played an important role in the development of the thinking and practice of digital preservation. Both the National Archives of Australia and the National Library of Australia have adopted lifecycle concepts in the design of their digital preservation planning.

The best known and widely adopted lifecycle approach is the Open Archival Information System Reference Model (OAIS), developed by the space exploration science and engineering community in 2002.

This book is about another lifecycle model; the Digital Curation Centre's Curation Lifecycle Model (DCC‐CLM): developed in 2007 and 2008 as a graphical high‐level overview of the lifecycle stages required for successful curation of digital resources.

Jointly founded in 2004 by the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, the United Kingdom Office for Library and Information Networking (UKOLN) at the University of Bath, and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the DCC is the UK's national centre for solving challenges in digital curation that cannot be tackled by any single institution or discipline.

Under the tagline “because good research needs good data”, the centre's early work focused on developing tools for digital curation – and building capacity, capability and skills for data curation across the UK's higher education research community. It “now concentrates on the provision of expertly mediated access to resources, originating both from the DCC and elsewhere; an advocacy and community development programme designed to produce a nationally coherent movement for change; all underpinned by a training programme aimed at nurturing the transfer of knowledge and best practice between data producers, users and custodians (”

Ross Harvey is an authority on digital and paper‐based preservation in libraries, a contributor to international library conferences and an educator in information management. His extensive research into New Zealand's newspaper history in the 1980s was succeeded in 1990 by the publication of Preservation in Australian and New Zealand Libraries; a seminal compilation of current thinking and practice – and an inspiration to many practising library preservation managers bereft of guidance. In 2005 he published Preserving Digital Materials; another thoroughly researched compendium of thinking and practice about this emerging concern. Harvey continues as an educator on three continents as is currently Visiting Professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Simmons College, Boston.

Digital Curation draws extensively on his time as Visiting Professor at the University of Glasgow in 2007‐2008 and appears at an appropriate time. Writing this review is an opportunity for me to learn more about DCC‐CLM, assess Harvey's current thinking on digital preservation and whether his North American experience has altered his views.

This review also comes with a warning: although the sub‐title of the book is “a how‐to‐do‐it manual” it is not a step‐by‐step resource but a textbook in the Facet publishing how‐to‐do‐it series about how the DCC was thinking about digital curation in 2007 and 2008 when its lifecycle model was developed. The book has an accompanying website at www.neal‐

Digital Curation: A How to do it Manual by Ross Harvey and published by Facet Publishing in late 2010 begins with an explanation of the term “digital curation”; an unfamiliar term in Australia where the term digital preservation is more widely used. Harvey explains that “digital curation” is a “whole of lifecycle” concept (from before creation to destruction) whereas “digital preservation” is a narrower term restricted to maintaining the bit stream.

The author's purpose is to make “a significant contribution by describing in detail, in one place, the basics and current practices of digital curation (p. xvi)”. His primary point of view is exposition: to present the facts as clearly and impartially as possible.

Harvey's intended audience is “anyone who creates data, anyone who uses and reuses data, and anyone who curates data (p. xvi).” Digital Curation is intended to be read by “librarians and archivists and by students of these professions [and …] scientists and scholars who plan research and collect and use data (p.xvi).”

He writes in an informal style – with the correct use of technical words ‐ that suits the intended audience and this reviewer who read the book in episodes while travelling on the train between Werribee and Geelong over a three‐week period. The writing could be more concise. However the contents' lists that introduce each chapter, and the numerous “call‐out” boxes that summarise the key points, amply compensate for this mild criticism of the author's style. In my own work I have found it useful to extract these summaries and keep them in my day‐book.

Digital Curation includes a comprehensive list of the many abbreviations and acronyms that proliferate in this area of work and a good index marred by the absence of entries for the national institutions in Australia, which are correctly praised in the preface as “… widely acknowledged as representing international best practice (p. xvii).”

The author continues his previous practice of following each chapter with comprehensive references: in turn this reviewer continued his practice of checking his knowledge of the quoted sources and many a fruitful hour was spent online as a result.

The book is organised in three sections and fifteen chapters. Part 1, “Digital curation: scope and incentives” introduces the main concepts and provides an overview. It is a primer on the scope of digital curation, the issues, the reasons why it needs our attention, the changing nature of eScholarship and the role of digital curators. Part 2, “Key requirements for digital curation” describes the four full lifecycle actions that take place throughout the life of digital resources. The emphasis is on the ongoing need to appraise data for their significance, the critical role that metadata plays in managing and accessing data, the importance of planning and policy, and the need to work collaboratively, which the DCC calls “community watch”. It is very helpful while reading part 2, and part 3 of “Digital curation”, to have the Curation Lifecycle Model in view. The model is printed on the rear cover of the publication but quickly made its way onto a photocopy to have at hand. Part 3, “The digital curation lifecycle in action”, contains seven chapters, one for each of the DCC's sequential actions “create or receive”; “appraise and select”; “ingest”; “preservation action”; “store”; “access, use and reuse”; and “transform”. Harvey thoroughly explains these steps. He also emphasises how “create or receive” may include the design of data in a preliminary phase and “appraise” and select may include “dispose”.

Digital Curation: A How‐to‐do‐it Manual has some weaknesses. I would have preferred to read more about the costs of digital preservation, which can now be calculated (at least in the short‐term) from the experience gained by programs that have been in existence for almost a decade. I also find the author to be frustratingly neutral about the merits of the strategies described in the book. From his position as an authority on digital preservation I would have expected to learn much more about which strategies work and which strategies do not. This is not a book for organisations looking for a guide to decision‐making.

The book has many strengths. I agree with Harvey's focus on the Digital Curation Centre and its Curation Lifecycle Model. The work of the centre needs to be more widely known and the model is an excellent “thought starter”. An individual looking for a primer on digital preservation will gain much from reading this book and accessing the numerous references. This is a topical work and a welcome addition to the literature of digital preservation, very little of which is published in book format.

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