The massive increase in digital information in the last decade has created new requirements arising from a deficit in the institutional and technological structures and the human capital necessary to utilize and sustain the abundance of new digital information. This National Research Council consensus study report focuses on the need for education and training in digital curation to meet the societal demands for access to and meaningful use of digital information, now and in the future. For the purposes of this study, digital curation is defined as: “The active management and enhancement of digital information assets for current and future use.” This definition provided the committee with a shared understanding of the scope of digital curation. As discussed below, digital curation entails more than secure storage and preservation of digital information because curation may add value to digital information and increase its utility.
There is no single occupational category for digital curators and no precise mapping between the knowledge and skills needed for digital curation and existing professions, careers, or job titles. The scope of digital curation is broader than that of data curation because digital curation includes all types of digital information. Digital curation differs from traditional curation of physical objects and collections because of the dynamic nature of digital information, its dependence on hardware and software for processing and analysis, its fragility, and many other characteristics.
The committee addressed the following issues in the course of this study. It identified the various practices and spectrum of skill sets that digital curation comprises, looking in particular at human versus automated tasks, both now and in the foreseeable future. It examined the possible career path demands and options for professionals working in digital curation activities and analyzed the economic benefits and societal importance of digital curation for competitiveness, innovation, and scientific advancement. In particular, the committee identified and analyzed the evolving roles and models of digital curation functions in research organizations and their effects on employment opportunities and requirements. It also identified and assessed the existing and future models for education and training in digital curation skill sets and career paths in various domains.
This report is organized into four chapters to address the Statement of Task, which is presented in full in Chapter 1, Section 1.4. Chapter 1 defines digital curation, establishes the scope of digital curation activities, and identifies factors that may influence workforce demand and the character of digital curation over the course of the next decade. Chapter 2 analyzes the current state of digital curation in detail, including the opportunities and benefits of digital curation and the character of digital curation work. Current and future demand for people with digital curation knowledge and skills along a spectrum from full-time professional curators to skills that anyone doing data-intensive work will need are examined in Chapter 3. Finally, Chapter 4 analyzes the current state of educational opportunities in digital curation and proposes measures for education and training to address the growing and unmet needs. The remainder of
Chapter 2 has five principal conclusions:
Conclusion 2.1: Demands for readily accessible, accurate, useful, and usable digital information from researchers, information-intensive industries, and consumers have exposed limitations, vulnerabilities, and missed opportunities for science, business, and government, as a result of the immaturity and ad hoc nature of digital curation. There is also a push for greater openness and transparency across many sectors of society. Taken together, these factors are creating an urgent need for policies, services, technologies, and expertise in digital curation. Although the benefits of digital curation are poorly understood and not well articulated, significant opportunities exist to embed digital curation deeply into an organization’s practices to reduce costs and increase benefits.
Conclusion 2.2: There are many inducements that could drive advances in the field of digital curation:
• Organizations that can serve as leaders, models, and sources of good curation practices;
• Government requirements for managing, sharing, and archiving information in digital form;
• Protection of digital assets to build trust and satisfy consumers and to maintain competitiveness in business and scientific research;
• Rewards and professional recognition for the value that curation adds to digital information; and
• Pressure from consumers, citizens, and society at large for accountability and transparency in business and government.
Conclusion 2.3: There are also barriers to developing the capacity for comprehensive, affordable, and effective digital curation. Some impediments, such as attitudes about sharing data and concerns over privacy, competitive advantage, security, and misuse of digital information, are difficult to delineate or measure. Insufficient financial resources for digital curation are a commonplace concern.
Conclusion 2.4: Cost models and studies of digital curation costs consistently identify human resources as the most costly component of digital curation. Current cost models are likely to underestimate the costs of curation tasks performed by the creators and producers of digital information, because no techniques have been developed to segregate or measure curation costs prior to accessioning into a repository. There is a pressing need to identify, segregate, and measure the costs of curation tasks that are embedded in scientific research and common business processes.
Conclusion 2.5: Although standards and good practices for digital curation are emerging, there is great variability in the extent to which standards and effective practices are being adopted within scientific disciplines, commercial enterprises, and government agencies. The absence of coordination across different sectors of the economy and different organizations has led to limited adoption of consistent standards for digital curation and resulted in the fragmented dissemination of good practices.
Four recommendations flow from these conclusions:
Recommendation 2.1: Organizations across multiple sectors of the economy should create inducements for and lower barriers to digital curation. The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) should lead policy development and prioritize strategic resource investments for digital curation. Leaders in information-intensive industries should advocate for the benefits of digital curation for product innovation, competitiveness, reputation management, and consumer satisfaction. Leaders of scientific organizations and professional societies should promote mechanisms for recognition and rewards for scientific and professional contributions to digital curation.
Recommendation 2.2: Research communities, government agencies, commercial firms, and educational institutions should work together to accelerate the development and adoption of digital curation standards and good practices. This includes (1) the development and promotion of standards for meaningful exchange of digital information across disciplinary and organizational boundaries; and (2) interoperability between systems used to collect, accumulate, and analyze digital information and the repositories, data centers, cloud services, and other providers with long-term stewardship and dissemination responsibilities.
Recommendation 2.3: Researchers in economics, business analysis, process design, workflow, and curation should collaborate to identify, estimate or measure, and predict costs associated with digital curation. The National Science Foundation, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, relevant foundations, and industry groups should solicit proposals for and fund such research.
Recommendation 2.4: Scientific and professional organizations, advocacy groups, and private-sector entities should articulate, explain, and measure the benefits derived from digital curation, including “after-market” benefits, risk mitigation, and opportunities for private-sector investment, innovation, and development of curation technologies and services. The benefits should include outcomes that generate measurable value as well as less tangible benefits such as the accessibility of digital information over time for scientific research, organizational learning, long-term trend analysis, policy impact analysis, and even personal entertainment. Such research is necessary for the development and testing of sophisticated cost-benefit (or cost-value) models and metrics that encompass the full range of digital curation activities in many types of organizations.
Chapter 3, which looks at the demand side of the equation, presents five main conclusions:
Conclusion 3.1: Jobs involving digital curation exist along a continuum, from those for which almost all tasks focus on digital curation to those for which digital curation tasks arise occasionally in a job that is embedded in some other domain.
Conclusion 3.2: Although digital curation is not currently recognized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its Standard Occupational Classification, other sources of employment data identify the emergence and rapid rise of digital curation and associated job skills.
Conclusion 3.3: There is a paucity of data on the production of trained digital curation professionals and their career paths. Tracking employment openings, enrollments in professional education programs, and the placement and career trajectories of graduates from these programs would help balance supply with demand on a national scale.
Conclusion 3.4: The pace of automation and its potential impact on both the number and types of positions that require digital curation knowledge and skills is a great unknown. Automation of at least some digital curation tasks is desirable from a number of perspectives, and its potential has been demonstrated in several domains.
Conclusion 3.5: Enhanced educational opportunities and new curricula in digital curation can help to meet the rapidly growing demand. These opportunities can be developed at all levels and delivered through formal and informal educational processes. Digital learning materials that are accessible online, for example, may achieve broad exposure and possible rapid adoption of digital curation procedures.
We make two recommendations in light of the analysis in Chapter 3:
Recommendation 3.1: Government agencies, private employers, and professional associations should develop better mechanisms to track the demand for individuals in jobs where digital curation is the primary focus. The Bureau of Labor Statistics should add a digital curation occupational title to the Standard Occupational Classification when it revises the SOC system in 2018. Recognition of digital curation as an occupational category would also help to strengthen the attention given to digital curation in workforce preparation.
Recommendation 3.2: Government agencies, private employers, and professional associations should also undertake a concerted effort to monitor the demand for digital curation knowledge and skills in positions that are primarily focused on other activities but include some curation tasks. The Office of Personnel Management should issue guidelines for specifying digital curation knowledge and skills that should be included in federal government position descriptions and job announcements. Private employers, professional associations, and scientific organizations should specify the digital curation knowledge and skills needed in positions that require them.
The final chapter offers three broad conclusions:
Conclusion 4.1: Although the number and breadth of educational opportunities supporting digital curation have grown, existing capacity is low, especially for the initial education of professional digital curators and the midcareer training of professionals with credentials in another field. In particular:
• Graduate and postgraduate certificate programs for educating professional digital curators (e.g., in Library and Information Schools and iSchools) are expanding, but workforce demand is projected to exceed the output of existing programs.
• Midcareer practitioners with little or no formal education in digital curation rely on a spectrum of types of training, including online and in-person, experimental and time-tested, and just-in-time training, but this too is not sufficiently developed.
Conclusion 4.2: The knowledge and skills required of those engaged in digital curation are dynamic and highly interdisciplinary. They include an integrated understanding of computing and information science, librarianship, archival practice, and the disciplines and domains generating and using data. Additional knowledge and skills for effective digital curation are emerging in response to data-driven scholarship. More specifically:
• Individuals with an undergraduate degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) disciplines and graduate-level education in digital curation are—and will continue to be—in particular demand as digital curators.
• Discipline specialists with informatics and digital curation expertise are, and will continue to be, in demand to provide discipline-focused curation services.
• Although the multidisciplinary character of digital curation as a career currently suggests a graduate education level, some knowledge and skills may be acquired through 2-year associate or 4-year bachelor’s degrees.
• Continuing professional education alternatives will need to be flexible and diverse, providing a range of introductory and more specialized options through several modes of delivery, such as workshops, tutorials, online course modules, and webinars.
Conclusion 4.3: The range of needs and opportunities in digital curation, particularly when reflected in Office of Personnel Management position descriptions and Bureau of Labor Statistics descriptions of occupations, will require building and advancing a diverse community supported by a core of professionals and practitioners.
In light of these conclusions, we make the following three recommendations:
Recommendation 4.1: OSTP should convene relevant federal organizations, professional associations, and private foundations to encourage the development of model curricula, training programs and instructional materials, and career paths that advance digital curation as a recognized academic and professional discipline.
Recommendation 4.2: Educators in institutions offering professional education in digital curation should create cross-domain partnerships with educators, scholars, and practitioners in data-intensive disciplines and established data centers. The goals of these partnerships would be to accelerate the definition of best practices and guiding principles as they evolve and mature, to help ensure that educational and training opportunities meet the needs of scientists in specific disciplines, analysts in different business sectors, and members of other communities utilizing digital curation systems and services.
Recommendation 4.3: Federal agencies, private foundations, and industrial research organizations should foster research on digital curation that makes fundamental progress on problems with practical applications in their respective domains. Initial activities should focus on establishing research priorities and baseline analyses, including engagement and outreach through:
• Conferences and symposia designed to recognize and communicate the need for, benefits of, and successes in digital curation; and
• Workshops for researchers in the public and private sectors to develop coordinated research agendas focused on enhancing the value and utility of digital resources, including metadata, interoperability, and automation.
The resulting agendas for research in digital curation should be tightly coupled with the curricula and offerings of educational programs to shape the field during a time of dynamic and dramatic growth and change.