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Panel Explores Educational Alignment in Digital Management and Curation

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The following is a guest post from Ellen O’Donnell, Senior Technical Writer, on assignment to the Office of Strategic Initiatives from the National Institutes of Health.

Staffs of digital preservation programs from around the world gathered at an historic conference in Tallinn, Estonia, in May 2011, to share information and build strategic collaborations to help preserve the world’s collective cultural memory in digital form.

Credit: Inge Angevaare, Netherlands Coalition for Digital Preservation
From left: Andreas Rauber, Sheila Corral, Joy Davidson, and George Coulbourne. Credit: Inge Angevaare, Netherlands Coalition for Digital Preservation

The Library of Congress was a major sponsor and organizer, and several Library staff served as panelists and speakers.  More than 125 attendees represented institutions from almost two dozen countries.

One of six panels at Aligning National Approaches in Digital Preservation focused on alignment of professional-development training in digital management and curation (abbreviated as DM/C).  The panel sought to identify opportunities for complementarity among various disciplines to support the entire DM/C lifecycle.  Each of the four panelists presented.

Joy Davidson, research projects coordinator and manager of the Digital Curation Centre at the Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom, served as panel chair and also offered a researcher’s perspective.  She noted that a number of new educational modules and short courses on DM/C are emerging; the specialty is starting to be embedded in some courses on IT and research disciplines; and there are high levels of cooperation in the community. She presented in detail several current, innovative activities and projects. Ms. Davidson also addressed a number of challenges, such as lack of agreement to date on what skills should be taught to each community of practice; where and how to match, augment, and complement skill sets; and the need for more input from industry and professional bodies. She offered numerous hopes for the work over the next few years (for these and other details, please consult the conference Web site at the end of this article).

George Coulbourne is executive program officer for the Associate Librarian for Strategic Initiatives/Chief Information Officer at the Library of Congress, in the Office of Strategic Initiatives.  Mr. Coulbourne focused upon knowledge transfer and internships. He first discussed OSI’s interest in establishing partnerships with the public and private sectors for development of pioneering graduate-level internship programs in digital curation and preservation.  Research has found many benefits to many parties (interns, their supervisors/mentors, academic institutions, professions, and the wider community) from internship programs, he said, and OSI’s experience hosting more than 50 interns and professional visitors supports this.

Credit: Inge Angevaare, Netherlands Coalition for Digital Preservation
Credit: Inge Angevaare, Netherlands Coalition for Digital Preservation

He also discussed the Library’s Digital Preservation Outreach and Education initiative. DPOE’s achievements during its first 15 months have included conducting a national survey of digital-preservation training needs, launching the first U.S. national calendar of digital-preservation training, reviewing curricula, developing core training principles, launching a national steering committee, and preparing for its first train-the-trainer workshop, to be held in September 2011.

Challenges that are facing both programs and for which broad alignment efforts will be helpful, Mr. Coulbourne said, include funding; employments prospects for those who are trained; outreach; advancement of standards, best practices, and metrics; and increasing diversity, both in internship programs (e.g., through better representation of racial and ethnic minorities and of backgrounds in science and technology) and in cultural-heritage digital-resource management.

Sheila Corral, the third speaker, is chair of librarianship and information management at the University of Sheffield Information School, U.K.  Current areas of alignment in the library and information science field, she said, include transferring research to education and practices; information-school partnerships with archives and libraries to develop and deliver DM/C programs; and international networks for knowledge exchange.  Challenges include finding staff time for curriculum development, making room in programs/units for new content, and continuing participation and support in a time of budget cuts.  Ms. Corral also discussed not only knowledge, competencies, and skills for the DM/C endeavor, but roles and responsibilities, closing by encouraging a “cross-functional skills framework.”

A perspective from the computer science field was offered by Andreas Rauber, associate professor in the Department of Software Technology and Interactive Systems at the Vienna (Austria) University Institute of Technology.  Mr. Rauber urged that the DM/C community be willing to work with external experts who are not currently part of that community—e.g., within the IT domain, with specialists in hardware engineering, software engineering, distributed systems, algorithms, IT security, and enterprise architectures.  “The contributions and cooperation [of all] are essential if we want to mitigate the preservation challenge from the onset and solve the challenges that need to be managed on a continuous basis,” he wrote in a paper based on his presentation.  He also posed a question of whether DM/C shall remain a profession on its own or have its aspects become more widely integrated, in the manner of an ongoing background solution.  As entire processes become digital, he said, the ability to curate them will require the development of a new body of knowledge, building on new foundations tightly linked to the basic differences of digital information and the way information is processed digitally. Training will be required in new, different skills and approaches and must be based on very solid IT competencies.

An edited volume from the conference will be posted in late 2011 on the event’s website. Resources, including presentation materials, are  available now. The DPOE Web site is For more information on DPOE, contact George Coulbourne ([email protected]) or Barrett Jones ([email protected]).

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