Thursday, November 10, 2011

Vocational training for Digital Curation?

The question of training is a big one that lingers around the edges of my own research and yesterday I attended a focus group to support a survey being conducted by the EC-funded project Digital Curator Vocational Education Europe (DigCurV).

So what does vocational training for digital curation mean exactly? A recent Dilbert comic strip mocked the title of 'digital curator', and in fact it's only the pomposity of the curator that's been introduced for comic effect - the digital curators I've met are adament that neither they nor anyone else understand what their job title really means. So 'digital curation' is an interesting starting point for beginning to define how a person would need to be trained for such a role. Rather than go over what we discussed yesterday, which will feature in the report, I was curious to explore how the enterprise was packaged.

It's interesting to note that such an important discussion brought forward by DigCurV remains couched in the language of the cultural heritage sector. Ideas like 'vocational', 'preservation' and, of course, 'curation' have been given prominence for describing the aims of what is, in the end, a very necessary process. The choice of this terminology certainly makes sense within cultural heritage institutions, to a certain extent it allows people within that domain to understand what these things are all about. But is that really what they are? And who should we really be looking to communicate most effectively with?

I say it's interesting that this type of language has been chosen due to the unprecedented manner in which digital content has opened up cultural heritage institutions to outside stakeholder groups in the last ten years or so. This may be stretching it a bit as an analogy, but it feels like a small country entering the UN General Assembly Hall to plead its case, yet refusing translation services. Their internal business has always been carried out in their own language, so why change now? The values held by that population make perfect sense to everyone inside that country, so they assume that such value is inherently communicable to anyone else they now come into contact with.

It actaully goes beyond simply being 'lost in translation'. Perhaps some of the biggest obstacles to functional digital collections in the cultural heritage sector come from the mindset of 'preservation', something that emerges from a model that was unsustainable when applied to anaolgue objects, never mind digital collections. In our hearts we all know that we're talking about sustainable access into the near future. By grafting the illusion of long-term preservation onto that, we've entered (or regressed, even) into a hopelessly unsustainable paradigm. Ironically, this choice of high cost digital collections strategy has been selected by the one sector least well-placed to carry it out.

As Dan Pallotta recently noted in an excellent Harvard Business Review blog, we need to "understand the nature of the box," if we ever want to get out of it.