Guest post by Gillian Oliver, co-author of Digital Curation, 2nd edition
As with any love story with a happy ending, a successful relationship with data will take effort and commitment. Here are five practical ways to ensure the course of true love runs smoothly:
1. Data by design
Unlike human relationships you can specify your ideal characteristics and so make sure you’re working from the best possible starting point. It’s never too early to begin design, project planning should incorporate awareness of data requirements from the perspectives of the stakeholders involved. If you need convincing, remember that up-front awareness and being proactive will greatly assist in reducing the overall costs involved in data curation. The types of features to think about are likely to include choices relating to open or proprietary file formats, metadata schema and workflows, naming conventions and storage requirements.
2. Learn from others
Learn from others. Don’t try to go it alone – there’s a wealth of experience out there and much of it is freely accessible to make use of. Here are just two examples of websites which can be mined for practical advice: The Digital Preservation Coalition contains many useful reports, especially the Technology Watch series. The Digital Curation Centre has an astonishing wealth of content, ranging from basic explanations of core definitions to very practical tools and guidance.
3. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel
This is further emphasising the point above, which can’t be repeated often enough. There are many standards available, such as the Open Archival Information System standard which provides ahigh level conceptual model for digital archives, or the Dublin Core schema for descriptive metadata. These standards have been developed by international and cross-disciplinary communities, and are subject to ongoing review.
4. Don’t be a loner, get out and socialise
There are plenty of opportunities to collaborate and work together with people grappling with the same problems which can only enrich your relationship with your data. Sharing your knowledge will help continue to build and grow the worldwide community of practice. Socialising can be face to face, if you’re fortunate enough to be able to take advantages of the many conferences, workshops and events that take place around the world, or online. The Open Preservation Foundation provides a central hub for tools, advice and knowledge exchange – particularly useful are the blogs which provide insight into current activities, both successes and failures.
5. Never give up
Good relationships can be established at a much later stage, unappreciated and unloved data need not be rejected if there are signs that there is potential for a fulfilling and positive future. But you will need specialist advice if you need to go down this track. BitCurator provides a gateway to digital forensics tools and methods in the cultural heritage context. Brown Dog is a project that seeks to bring the long tail of data into the light – the focus of their efforts is past and present uncurated data.
So, what are you waiting for? Love your data, starting today!
Gillian Oliver is Associate Professor at Monash University and the co-author of Digital Curation, 2nd edition (Facet 2016) and Records Management and Information Culture (Facet 2014), the co-editor of Engaging with Records and Archives (Facet 2016) and a Co-editor in Chief of the journal Archival Science.
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