What is digital curation?

Digital curation is the management and preservation of digital data/information over the long-term.

Digital curation involves maintaining, preserving and adding value to digital research data throughout its lifecycle.

The active management of research data reduces threats to their long-term research value and mitigates the risk of digital obsolescence. Meanwhile, curated data in trusted digital repositories may be shared among the wider UK research community.

As well as reducing duplication of effort in research data creation, curation enhances the long-term value of existing data by making it available for further high quality research.

Glossary

To help you get to grips with some of the common terminology used, the DCC has compiled a handy digital curation glossary. 

Digital Curation Glossary

The digital curation lifecycle

Digital curation and data preservation are ongoing processes, requiring considerable thought and the investment of adequate time and resources. You must be aware of, and undertake, actions to promote curation and preservation throughout the data lifecycle.

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The Digital Curation Lifecycle Model by Sarah Higgins, IJDC Issue 1, Volume 3, 2008

The digital curation lifecycle comprises the following steps:

  • Conceptualise - conceive and plan the creation of digital objects, including data capture methods and storage options.
  • Create - produce digital objects and assign administrative, descriptive, structural and technical archival metadata.
  • Access and use - ensure that designated users can easily access digital objects on a day-to-day basis. Some digital objects may be publicly available, whilst others may be password protected.
  • Appraise and select - evaluate digital objects and select those requiring long-term curation and preservation. Adhere to documented guidance, policies and legal requirements.
  • Dispose - rid systems of digital objects not selected for long-term curation and preservation. Documented guidance, policies and legal requirements may require the secure destruction of these objects.
  • Ingest - transfer digital objects to an archive, trusted digital repository, data centre or similar, again adhering to documented guidance, policies and legal requirements.
  • Preservation action - undertake actions to ensure the long-term preservation and retention of the authoritative nature of digital objects.
  • Reappraise - return digital objects that fail validation procedures for further appraisal and reselection.
  • Store - keep the data in a secure manner as outlined by relevant standards.
  • Access and reuse - ensure that data are accessible to designated users for first time use and reuse. Some material may be publicly available, whilst other data may be password protected.
  • Transform - create new digital objects from the original, for example, by migration into a different form.

Why preserve digital data?

Digital data preservation should be a key aspect of all research projects. Some research data are unique and cannot be replaced if destroyed or lost, yet only by referring to verifiable data can your research be judged as sound.

What's more, it is recognised good practice for institutions and researchers to manage and retain their research data, and sometimes they are legally required to do so for many years after project funding has ceased. So, putting in place adequate data preservation initiatives should be top of your list when planning any new research project.

Planning for preservation

You’ve put in the hard work to collect your data. Now put in a little extra effort to protect your results and make sure that they receive the full attention they deserve. Effective digital curation relies upon sound planning. Through our online resources, advocacy services, community development initiatives and training programme, the DCC can help you to plan – and implement – successful large-scale digital data preservation initiatives.

Because digital curation and data preservation are ongoing processes, you must plan for preservation throughout the lifecycle of digital material. Preservation actions must be planned – and then realised – to ensure that the authoritative nature of digital material is protected for the long term. Such actions include validation, assigning preservation metadata, assigning representation information and ensuring acceptable data structures or file formats.

Together, these preservation actions ensure that your digital objects remain authentic, reliable and usable whilst at all times maintaining their integrity.

Preserving digital data

Not only do scientists, researchers and scholars across the UK personally generate increasingly vast amounts of digital research data, but they also invest more in further digital media by acquiring digital content and information from third parties.

A data preservation programme suited to the individual institution must be used to safeguard this huge investment of time and resources. Without good practices in place, the scientific record and documentary heritage created in digital form will remain at risk from digital obsolescence and also from the fragilities inherent to digital media.

Whether your role is research support, data scientist, data manager, informatician, data librarian or research assistant, the DCC can help you to build your research team’s capacity and capability for digital curation and data preservation.

The value of digital curation

Some £3 billion of public money is invested annually in research in the UK alone, yet the research data resulting from this considerable investment are seldom as visible as they might be.

For research teams to enjoy the full benefit of the research data that is produced, institutions must put in place skilled digital curators and effective curation lifecycle management. This will help to ensure that important digital research data is adequately safeguarded for future use.

By learning how to preserve and share digital materials so others can effectively reuse them, you will maximise the impact of your research – and inspire confidence among the research councils and funding bodies that invest in your work.