Digital curation policies, workforce development are on the US Big Data Initiative agenda

University of Michigan School of Information Professor Margaret Hedstrom has been invited to present to the Big Data Senior Steering Committee of the White House Office of Science and Technology on May 28 to discuss the recommendations of the recently released report “Preparing the Workforce for Digital Curation.” Professor Hedstrom chaired the committee that researched and wrote the report, which was commissioned by the National Research Council, the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.

Today, business, the sciences, health organizations and government agencies are collecting vast amounts of digital data and other information which–if accurate and accessible–has the potential to speed scientific discovery, spur innovation, inform policy and support transparency.

However, the policies, infrastructure, and workforce needed to manage this information have not kept pace with its rapid growth, says the report. The immaturity and ad hoc nature of the field of digital curation–defined as the active management and enhancement of digital information assets for current and future use–so far has led to vulnerabilities and missed opportunities for science, business, and government.

“While there are analyses of data management and digital curation needs in specific fields of business, science, government and culture, the study of digital curation to date has been fragmented,” says Hedstrom. “Our study is the first that looks broadly at this issue across all sectors.  We found that there is an urgent need for policies, technologies and expertise in digital curation.”

The report recommends that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy lead policy development in digital curation and prioritize strategic resource investments for the field.  Research communities, government agencies, commercial firms, and educational institutions should work together to speed the development and adoption of digital curation standards and good practices.

“Digital curation should not be thought of as what we do with data after it’s been collected,” Hedstrom says. “Curation adds value to data for current use and is critical to its usefulness in the future. We need a much more integrated process. Curation starts at the beginning of data gathering and touches many aspects including policy, information flows and accessibility.”

The report offers several recommendations for strengthening the digital curation workforce, including developing better mechanisms for tracking supply and demand and adding a digital curation occupational title to the Standard Occupational Classification to strengthen the attention given to digital curation in workforce preparation.

In addition, it recommends that OSTP convene relevant federal organizations, professional associations, and private foundations to encourage the development of model curricula, training programs, and instructional materials that advance digital curation as a recognized discipline. Educators in institutions offering professional education in digital curation should create partnerships with educators, scholars, and practitioners in data-intensive disciplines and established data centers. These partnerships could speed the definition of best practices and guiding principles as they mature and evolve.

The Big Data Senior Steering Group, which will hear Hedstrom’s testimony on May 28, is comprised of representatives of the major research agencies and others that help drive the National Big Data Initiative and act as an information exchange for cross agency collaboration in developing the Federal big data research agenda.  According to the Group, data curation has become an increasingly important part of these efforts.

The study was sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the National Science Foundation. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  For more information, visit http://national-academies.org.

Preparing the Workforce for Digital Curation is available as a free download from the National Academies Press on the Internet at www.nap.edu.

Posted May 26, 2015