CurateGear Reflections

On January 6, 2012, I attended CurateGear at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. CurateGear was a one-day workshop designed to showcase the state of the art within the digital curation field. There were over twenty speakers, all experts within the digital curation field. The format of the workshop was highly interactive. First, we would listen to four short presentations on various topics then move to another room with four separate areas set up to see demonstrations of the topics and products the speakers introduced and ask them questions. Then we would have another four presentations and then another four demonstrations and question sessions. This pattern was repeated throughout the day. It was broken up well with the demonstration sessions and breaks so the day went by faster, and no one felt as through it was getting tedious — a sentiment I felt at the Repositories Workshop in Washington, DC, last November.

As a relatively new student to the fields of library and information sciences, I was hoping to learn more about the emerging field of data curation by attending CurateGear. The best way to describe the experience at this workshop is to say it was similar to drinking water from a fire hose all day long — you can drink a little, but the vast majority of the water flows by. I am sure I was able to catch a few nuggets of useful information, but much of the information the speakers spoke about was more advanced than what I could comprehend. I believe this workshop would have been better suited for my second year in graduate school. But, nonetheless, I am glad I was exposed to these topics and issues now, as they will become clearer to me as I go through the Foundations of Data Curation course and spend the summer at NCAR.

Having the foundation of the three SIS core courses before attending CurateGear was a benefit. The most useful of the three was 530, Information Access and Retrieval. Were it not for this class, I would not have even known what metadata was. This was a term used frequently by the speakers. One important issue that I picked up on was the need for accurate and thorough metadata for the data being stored. This issue is important for current and future researchers. Without it, discovery of the data will be difficult, at best. In contrast, the other side of that issue is the question of what metadata to store about different types of data. As I understand it, this is an ongoing question to which there is not a simple answer.

Another important question that will need to be answered is how to maintain and preserve the various file types for future access. This is not a simple issue, since file types and formats become obsolete quickly. There is a research center at Georgia Tech that is working on a way to identify and characterize file formats. Another speaker told about the difficulties he encountered when trying to archive the original working manuscript file for the musical Rent. The author died in 1996, and the original manuscript was written on an early 1990s model Apple Powerbook, making the archiving difficult. This made the issue clear — digital files have a short lifespan compared to hard copy materials and preserving them is and will continue to be a hot topic.

In all, I believe the trip was beneficial, if not for the introduction to the field of digital data curation, then for the contacts I was able to make. I spoke at length to the head of the Martin Journalism Library at University of Missouri. She indicated that within the next one to two years, the University of Missouri Library plans to hire a data curation specialist. This could prove to be a valuable connection. I intend to maintain contact with her and even visit on the way to or from Boulder this summer. Being on the cutting edge of a new field is exciting since it will provide for stronger long term career prospects.