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Life Cycle Models for Digital Stewardship

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At some point in undertaking digital stewardship, it’s helpful to consider the digital life cycle: the basic stages content moves through from creation to providing ongoing preservation, management and access over time.  Life cycle models are useful for understanding the full scope of the responsibility involved and also in formulating specific workflows for particular kinds of content. 

Models vary with institutional policies and practices, and also in accordance with desire for detail. As a result, there are a few diagrammed models in circulation.  Here are four selected samples, along with links for more information about each.

Digital Curation Centre:
Digital Curation Centre:

If you know of other models that depict the digital life cycle in the context of stewardship, please tell us!

Comments (8)

  1. See “Review of Data Management Lifecycle Models,”

    • Thank you for this reference–very helpful.

  2. For variety’s sake, it bears mentioning the work of Australians Frank Upward and Sue McKemmish to replace the stewardship “life cycle” model with a “continuum” model. (The idea of the continuum model is probably traceable to Jay Atherton & Terry Cook, among other, in the mid-1980s). The visualization of the continuum model can be seen in the following link but – warning – it is no less brain-scrambling than the DCC or CASPAR one: While the continuum model is format-agnostic and informed, to a degree, by principals of records management, it was engendered by the proliferation and characteristics of digital records and by what the model’s authors see as the increasingly antiquated notion of definable, segregated stages of recordkeeping based on a custodial framework. As they see it (in my poor paraphrasing), digital objects may still be in active use during preservation activities, stewards may be advising records creators prior to a record’s creation, the relationship between digital records is ever-shifting, and so on – essentially that the ephemerality of digital objects, their mutability, and their ability to exist within, and bear the evidence of, multiple contexts, makes it difficult to locate them in one stage of a cycle at any given time. I think some of that complexity is represented in the circular (or pointing-every-which-way) arrows in the above diagrams – and continuum model is a very broad theoretical model, not a workflow, curatorial, or procedural one. But the it does offer an interesting, alternate approach to the life cycle perspective.

    • Thanks for this reference to an alternative take on the concept.

  3. Ha, brainscrambling! Indeed I have be staring at the continuum model diagram for lo these many years and I still can’t read it right, though you are right, Jefferson, that they are attempting to depict graphically the (correctly) simultaneous aspects an information object can take: that is, data, document, record, and cultural artifact. Maybe a better illustration would be something akin to ripples emanating from dropping a stone in a lake, with the stone equaling a business transaction. Oh boy, paging Edward Tufte.

  4. See also LIFE (Life Cycle Information for E-Literature) is a collaboration between University College London (UCL) and the British Library.

    Also Stephens, A The application of life cycle costing in libraries. British Journal of Academic Librarianship, 1988, 3(2) pp. 82-88), and Stephens, A The application of life cycle costing in libraries: a case study based on acquisition and retention of library materials in the British Library. IFLA journal, 1994, 20(2) pp. 130-140) may be of interest.


    A conceptual model suggesting increasing sophistication around how content and intellectual assets are preserved, selectively transitioned to digital formats, interpreted, and leveraged to meet institutional vision and mission, and, ideally, contribute at societal/civilization levels.

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