Thoughts from the 6th International Digital Curation Conference (IDCC 2010)

I have just got back from an enjoyable, if bitterly cold, few days in Chicago attending the 6th International Digital Curation Conference. It was at the same conference last December that I had my first real taste of the digital curation / data management ‘scene’, so it was fascinating to see how things had changed over the year. The theme of the conference this year was ‘growing the curation community’, a subject of great relevance to the EIDCSR and Sudamih projects, especially with regards to their training and researcher involvement components.

Highlights of the conference included: Chris Lintott’s introduction to Galaxy Zoo and the ‘Zooniverse’ platform for citizen science projects; Kevin Ashley’s state-of-the-discipline keynote entitled ‘Curation Centres, Curation Services, How Many is enough?’ (more than three, apparently); and the presentations by Wendy White of Southampton and Robin Rice at Edinburgh detailing the progress of their institutions’ research data infrastructure developments, which were of obvious relevance to our own ambitions at Oxford.

Hosting the conference in Chicago led to a much larger American delegation than had been able to attend last year’s event in Edinburgh, and some of the differences in approach to digital curation between the US and UK quickly became apparent, particularly from the training perspective. Whereas in the UK the emphasis over the last year has been increasingly on involving researchers in the data curation process, with a particular focus on their data management practices, in the US, the emphasis is far more on extending the skills of the library community and providing career pathways for data librarians. Two questions arise from this: firstly, why the difference? Secondly, which approach is likely to reap the most benefits in terms of maximising the value of research data?

The explanation for the different approaches seemed to lie mostly with the funders. Asked why their appeared to be little development of digital curation courses taking place in the UK, Sheila Corrall of the University of Sheffield pointed out that the current squeeze of library budgets this side of the Atlantic left little space for curriculum development in this area. The fact that UK Masters are one-year affairs, compared with the prevalence of two-year masters courses in the US additionally left less time for flexibility and optional course components. In contrasts, JISC’s funding remit and coordinating role in the UK is directed more towards research. Another aspect that may be influencing national attendance at the conference is differing identifications with the term ‘digital curation’. Whereas the DCC and JISC encourage a broad interpretation of digital curation, including data management considerations at the pre-library ‘ingest’ stage, perhaps it suggests a narrower set of responsibilities elsewhere?

The question of which approach to training most benefits research data is more vexed. EIDCSR and Sudamih take the approach that researchers need to be directly involved with data management activities from the planning stage of a research project, albeit with support from other agencies. In addition, we take the approach that it is the researchers that create data who are best positioned to document that data (and particularly the processes involved in the creation of that data). It became apparent during the course of the conference however that whilst the emphasis in the US may at present be more upon training librarians to manage digital curation rather than researchers, and consequently more attention is paid to issues of longer-term preservation and curation, the librarians being trained in this way are perfectly aware of the need to support researchers and become involved at the creation stage. Ultimately, one of the strengths of the conference was to bring together the international community to exchange and understand these differences in approach and emphasis, and broaden conceptions regarding who could, and should, take responsibility for managing data at various stages of the data lifecycle, along with what needs to be included amongst these responsibilities.

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