Digital Curation Policies and Well-Trained Workforce Needed to Handle Fast-Growing Collections of Digital Information

WASHINGTON -- From distant satellites to medical implants, sensors are collecting unprecedented quantities of digital data across the scientific disciplines. Other sectors -- government, business, and health – are collecting huge amounts of data and information as well. If accurate and accessible, such information 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 a new report from the National Research Council. The immaturity and ad hoc nature of the field of digital curation – 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.

There is an urgent need for policies, technologies, and expertise in digital curation, said the committee that conducted the study and wrote the report. It 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.

The report also offers several recommendations for strengthening the digital curation workforce. Currently there is little data available on how – and how many -- digital curation professionals are being trained and the career paths they follow. Moreover, it is difficult to estimate current and future demand because digital curation takes place in many types of jobs. The primary source of statistics on employment in the federal government, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, does not track digital curation as a separate occupation. However, the committee could estimate the current demand for digital curation professionals by examining data on job openings for related occupations -- enterprise architects, data stewards, librarians and archivists, among others. Openings for almost all of these professions at least doubled between 2005 and 2012, the committee found.

Government agencies, private employers, and professional associations should develop better mechanisms to track the demand for individuals in jobs where digital curation is the primary focus, the report says. The Bureau of Labor Statistics should add a digital curation occupational title to the Standard Occupational Classification when it revises the SOC system in 2018; this recognition would also help to strengthen the attention given to digital curation in workforce preparation. Tracking employment openings for digital curation professionals, enrollments in professional education programs, and the career trajectories of their graduates would help balance supply with demand on a national scale.

In addition, OSTP should 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 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. They are private, independent nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to NAS in 1863. 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.

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Pre-publication copies of Preparing the Workforce for Digital Curation are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at www.nap.edu or by calling 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).