Content Curation: Beyond the Institutional Repository and Library Archives

If you are an academic librarian, you have been hearing about Data Curation, Content Curation, Information Curation or Digital Curation for years. And the terms can be applied in several different ways. There are the curation activities surrounding purchased library materials and the curation of faculty and student items (like theses and dissertations for example). Archivists have been intimately involved with all sorts of curation activities since archives existed, and were early adopters of digital curation and finding aids for the items they maintained. Most recently, Data Curation has been in the forefront of librarian discussions in response to government mandates to make research information widely available; first with the medical field, and more recently with the National Science Foundation requirements for data curation plans in all NSF grants.

The Digital Curation Centre defines the concept for us: “Digital curation involves maintaining, preserving and adding value to digital research data throughout its lifecycle.” Their goal is to actively manage research data in order to “reduce threats to their long-term research value and mitigate the risk of digital obsolescence.” The site has a great Digital Life Cycle Infographic which graphically illustrates the cyclical process.

There are numerous questions, policies, issues and opportunities in all the various curation activities in libraries today, but I would like to turn our attention to the topic of Content Curation beyond the repository and archive doors. The buzz about Content Curation has become popularized throughout the digital world as a result of the explosion of users who today create content as well as ingest it. Blog writing became more widespread when simple blogging tools like Blogger and WordPress became freely available. Facebook and YouTube “likes” gave us the social media push, allowing even more people to express opinions on the work of others. Amazon, and review sites like Kudzu, Yelp, Angie’s List and Healthgrades encouraged everyone to submit their opinions and the average person was suddenly creating content on the web (even though they might not have seen it as such!)

Tools like Evernote and OneNote gave us platforms for saving information that we found on the internet, and bookmarking sites like Delicious and Diigo added the social aspects of making our bookmarks public so that everyone could search for resources that others had found worth marking. While the tagging on bookmarking sites allowed for a rudimentary level of organization, information on why a particular link was included by the bookmarker was not captured. More recently, social networks on various platforms such as Google + and Twitter provided new sources for individuals with a shared interest to exchange information that they had found in their research with others. Information was everywhere and the average person was struggling under the load of its rapid pace.

Clay Shirky (www.shirky.com) suggests that “[the problem] is not information overload. It’s filter failure.” How can we create better filters? Enter Digital Content Curation as a way to create new value from the current influx of lists of links to existing resources on a topic. Beth Kanter, a prolific and well respected blog author for non-profit marketers, defines content curation as “the process of sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme.”  A good content curator is invaluable in this age of information because, Kanter says, “finding that information (and making sense of it) requires more and more time, attention, and focus.” And who among us has time, attention or focus to spare?

So, we’ve determined that curated content, when done well, offers great benefit to the reader. We have also acknowledged that it takes time, effort and focus to create this type of content. Other than accolades from a readership, what is in it for the curator? There are a number of benefits to the digital curator (Good, Robin):

  • One of the best ways to learn new topics or skills is by being able to teach it to someone else.
  • The process of digital curation makes you examine and evaluate the material in a “new and multi-dimensional way”
  • Curating helps clarify for both the author and the reader the relationships and links between groups of information
  • Helps develop critical thinking and writing skills
  • The overwhelming plethora of information today has learners seeking reliable and trusted guide to sources for well-organized and high quality information. (a new delivery point for a service librarians have provided for generations) (Metzger, Miriam)

Librarians are in an advantageous position to add this new area of expertise to the tool box that we offer in outreach to our academic faculty. Next month I will begin an exploration of some of the content curation tools popular today.

References:

Good, Robin. Content Curation for Education and Learning, presented at Emerge 2012 http://www.mindmeister.com/63257746/types-of-curation

Kanter, Beth. Content Curation 101. http://www.bethkanter.org/content-curation-101/

Metzger, M. J. (2007). Making sense of credibility on the Web: Models for evaluating online information and recommendations for future research. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 58(13),2078–2091.

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