Introduction to Digital Curation MOOC – Week 2 Exercise

The second week of the UCL Digital Curation MOOC asked ‘attendees’ to perform some wider reading around the context for digital curation – i.e. the emergence of computers and associated technologies over the last century – and then to consider their own ‘place’ within that narrative. Delegates were asked to write 500 or so words detailing:

  • When did you first use a computer?
  • When did computers and/or digital material start to impact on what you do?
  • How have they impacted on what you do?
  • Have they made what you do harder or easier? Why?
  • Is there a technological development that has had a significant impact on what you do that is not mentioned on the timelines? If so, what was it?
  • Do you remember any of the events mentioned on the timelines as being particularly significant for you or what you do? In what way?
  • From where does your concern with or interest in digital curation stem?

Below is the response I submitted:

“I do not recall when I first used a computer. Initially at home – my grandfather and father were ‘early adopters’ – and then at school from the mid-1980s onwards, computers have, quite simply, always been there. My youthful and ‘BASIC’ interest in programming disappeared once I discovered computer games, then football and football management simulations more specifically. While computers were something of an ‘add-on’ at school, once I entered university study they had become essential – for typing documents, for locating and accessing of materials via catalogues and scholarly journals (JSTOR). In contrast, using the internet itself to access digital content was rare in the UK, though I note that it seemed a bigger part of academic life during a year spent studying in the US.

Professionally, computers have, again, always been essential. Working on the public library frontline, computers have been used as catalogues, for search, to communicate, etc. I would say that the most significant timeline events have been the development of MARC (1968) and the emergence of user-friendly search engines (Google, 1999). It would be odd to say that computers have ‘impacted’ on any of this; having not been in the library sector when those shifts to digital systems occurred, I was not witness to the violent ruptures felt by staff trained in non-digital ways of working. Digital catalogues, collections and reference sources have always seemed ‘natural’ to me and I have not felt the need to question their existence or their implications for the acquisition, preservation, exhibition – indeed, the ‘curation’ – of materials.

Digital curation, then – however we define it – has only recently become an issue of interest to me. Without going into excessive detail (more here), I have become interested in the digital as a tool to systematically bring together (and then edit/update/share) resources under categorized subject headings. Categorized is the key part; the selection (curation?) of materials from diverse and diffuse locations is what distinguishes this work from those library catalogues that are often too ‘blunt’ for (a specific) purpose. There is nothing especially ‘technical’ in these practices, though the level of interpretation/contextualisation is appropriate for the needs of the institutional audience.

Secondly, as mentioned on the introductory forum, an interest in football history has led me to attempt cataloguing the archive of past matches uploaded to video-hosting sites. Again, while there is nothing especially technical in content-curation, it is the human-filtering of that vast data mass into logical categories (i.e. football seasons) that defines this work, for me, as a type of digital curation. Sorting is an act of contextualisation that then allows for interpretative exercises to proceed from the base of organised data. The broader approach – selecting content according to specific criteria – is applicable across many other subjects or sources of material. So, the emergence of content hosting websites (e.g. YouTube, 2005) is an event, not mentioned on the timelines, but which has had a significant impact on ‘what I do’.”



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