Set your house in order

Oct 07 2009 Published by under Tactics

Roy Tennant sent me an email about my Access presentation in which he asked what libraries should do about the laundry-list of data-curation challenges I presented. (If you're curious, you can go view the presentation yourself, courtesy of the wonderful A/V folk at Access. The less-than-an-hour-long way to assimilate the same information is to look over slides plus talk notes on SlideShare.)

That's an eminently fair criticism. I've been thinking about it since receiving the email. I think the answer for libraries is to set their own digital houses in order first thing. After all, how can we justify the claim that we can help researchers manage digital data if our own data are a jumbled mess?

  • Do you have digital preservation policies and procedures? Are they clear about what the library can and cannot do? (If all you can do is bit preservation, fine, but say so.)
  • Do you have access to appropriate technological infrastructure for digital preservation? (I say "access to" advisedly. I don't actually care whether the big backed-up disk lives in the library or with campus IT, as long as it's appropriately provisioned.)
  • Do you include local born-digital materials in your collection-development policy? Are your selectors or liaisons actively collecting? If not, start the necessary conversations.
  • Is there unnecessary proliferation of digital-library software packages or hosted services in your library? Fix it. Migrate off the less-capable platforms (which may actually be all of them!) onto something that will scale and be flexible. A platform insufficiently flexible to handle all your digital-library needs will be pitifully inadequate for data.
  • Do you have an institutional repository? Are you getting value out of it? Really? If not, have the courage to migrate the content and shut it down, re-assigning its manager to something more useful—data services, perchance.
  • Do you have physical media such as diskettes and CDs lying around, with material that needs preservation? Fix it. Get the data onto your chosen platform. Chances are these data are fairly representative of the challenges you'll run into doing data curation, so why not learn on your own materials?

A library that has accomplished all the above goals is in extremely good position to start a serious data-curation program.

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