DigCCurr Professional Institute Has Shaped Digital Curation Practices Around the World

January 23, 2017

DigCCurr Institute 2015 participants discuss digital preservation issues in small working groups.

Since its introduction in 2009, the annual DigCCurr Professional Institute — an intensive workshop designed to foster skills, knowledge and community among professionals in the field of digital curation — has drawn 249 participants from nine countries and 33 states.  Hosted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and taught by international digital curation experts, DigCCurr has made a profound impact on its attendees from around the globe.

“You’re really learning from leaders in the field,” said Elizabeth Charlton, an archivist at Marist Archives in Wellington, New Zealand and an attendee of the 2015 Institute. “The accumulation of the knowledge being shared is remarkable and the face-to-face communication is so valuable.”

At DigCCurr, participants learn about the most current digital preservation practices in a hands-on environment, working with the latest tools and other professionals. Heather Yager, the head librarian at the California Academy of Sciences, attended the Institute while she was a digital media archivist at the Computer History Museum. She considered the experience invaluable for its comprehensive and holistic insight into digital preservation.

“What I learned at DigCCurr was immediately applicable to my work at the Computer History Museum, where we were in the process of designing a digital repository,” Yager said. “I was able to use tools like fiwalk and BitCurator immediately, and was generally able to apply the concepts to my work as I developed the procedural and policy documentation during the launch of our digital preservation program. I consider the topics taught at DigCCurr to be compulsory education for any archivist working with digital materials, and recommend the program wholeheartedly to colleagues.”

The Institute grew from DigCCurr II, an initiative to develop an international, doctoral-level curriculum and educational network in the field of digital curation for the purposes of archiving resources in the areas of cultural heritage, science, commerce, health, education and governmental sectors for long term access and meaningful re-use. DigCCurr II itself followed DigCCurr I, which was a three-year collaborative project from 2006-2009 to develop a framework for creating a corps of doctorate-level faculty skilled in the management and preservation of digital materials across their life cycle.

UNC School of Information and Library Science professors Helen Tibbo and Cal Lee have become mainstays as instructors for the Institute, along with a large roster of experts from around the country. Not only has the Institute attracted global participants, in 2012 it reached abroad itself, traveling to Copenhagen to hold the Institute.

“An increasing amount of the materials that the Royal Library collects are in digital form, and in order to curate these materials we are in the process of re-thinking all existing workflows and procedures,” Birgit Nordsmark Henriksen, deputy director for the National Library Division at the Royal Library, said in 2012. “This does not only mean implementation of new technologies, it is also crucial that our staff has contemporary competences. Therefore, we looked at different educational courses and found that the Institute offered by UNC seemed to be the best opportunity, given that it is research based and has an interactive form. The course proved to be successful and I think that one of the most important things that it brought to the Library is a common language around digital curation.”

With the exception of 2012, Institute participants and instructors met in Chapel Hill for five days in the summer. Six months later, they reconvened for a two-day session to discuss how participants had been able to implement what they had learned, as well as sharing obstacles and strategies with their colleagues. This emphasis on providing a tangible takeaway that translates from knowledge to action has characterized the Institute.

Mohammed Baessa, a digital repository specialist at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, attended the DigCCurr Institute 2015 to learn how to manage the rapidly growing research outputs of KAUST’s students and faculty after it became one of the first universities in the region to mandate an open access policy in the summer of 2014.  Another 2015 attendee, Onyebuchi Ekpolomo, the head of library services at the African University of Science and Technology in Nigeria, found the Institute crucial to meeting the needs of her growing university.

“My university is small, offering postgraduate programs only and our digital content is increasing, hence the need to acquire skills and training to better understand the concept of digital preservation,” she said. “Attending DigCCurr 2015 is the best thing that has happened to my career and my institution.”

Creating connections between professionals in the digital curation field has also been one of the hallmarks of the Institute. Jessica Farrell, the curator of digital collections at Harvard Law School, met her predecessor at Harvard at the Institute.

“When her position became open, she suggested that it was a great fit,” Farrell said. “It was true – my current job is the best fit so far in my career. We continue to be both professional and personal friends and are both involved in the larger community of digital archivists, such as through New England Archivists.”

Attendees of the Institute have also found a network of colleagues around the United States and beyond who can collaborate on projects and initiatives for the overall benefit of the field.

“More than anything, I met other practitioners who were struggling with the same problems that I was facing,” said Courtney Mumma, currently a program manager in web servicing archives at the Internet Archives, but an employee of the City of Vancouver Archives at the time she attended. “Those relationships have persisted over the years and we continue to support each other.”