Doug Belshaw started it with the 8 C’s of digital literacy I doubt another topic has held so much attraction for single letter. But now now there are 9. The new kid on the digital block is Curation. The only surprise is it wasn’t there to start with. As anyone who’s lost their digital data will know, storage and preservation of content is vital. The cloud is good but not infallible. Books can be burned. Memory gets lost. Devices are stolen and paper vulnerable to all these things.
I should know. The research data for my first MA disappeared and the unfortunate combination of events changed the course of my life.
In the late 1990’s I’d used a Tandy computer with a dial-up modem to collect narratives from my research participants.
Following a request on a campaign website, I’d received responses from all over the world. It was my first experience of the international potential of internet connections. In terms of digital methodology I’d arrived. I felt so sharp I risked cutting myself. In more ways than one.
The narratives were on my hard drive, saved onto a five 1/4 inch floppy disk and printed out on a dot matrix printer which took all day and several reams of paper. But I was so ahead of the digital times. A bright new Intel pentium 486 chip Gateway was being delivered from America alongside my first laser printer. What could go wrong?
I submitted the first dissertation draft and my supervisor asked to see the data. Our computers were incompatible so I bundled the print-outs into a carrier bag, cycled to the uni and left them. A week later, with computers changed over, I cycled back to collect them.
I ‘d now moved to a 3 1/2 in disk drive. A whole 1.44 MB data. So exciting! I wasn’t too worried about disk incompatibility but it turned out the file transfer data was corrupted. This happened a lot back then. It was a pain but I remember feeling relieved because at least I had everything printed out. Or so I thought. At the uni, my supervisor explained her car had been broken into and her bag, containing all my printed data, had been stolen.
Up to then I’d been praised for innovative data collection. It returned far more than needed, highlighted new areas for research, put me in touch with a supportive international community. I’d been asked to consider a Phd because of the unique contribution to knowledge the data represented. All that came to an end.
The media loves stories of people who leave sensitive data on a train or the back seat of a taxi. I feel for them. I really do. But I doubt many of us lie awake at night worrying about digital curation. We think it won’t happen to us. If anything, cloud storage makes it even easier to cut back on belt and braces approaches of email, data sticks, FTP etc. One of the problems with digital capabilities is most of us use what we need to get by. Without background expertise it’s easy to make mistakes which can put you off doing something a second time. Over the years I’ve accepted how ‘digital’ contains an inevitability of errors. But it’s a hard lesson and not everyone has the inclination to go there.
Today we’re more likely to refer to the Jisc model of digital capabilities than Belshaw’s concept of digital elements. Here, digital curation could fit with ‘information data and media literacies‘ or ‘ICT proficiency‘ which links to four other areas. It could also connect with ‘digital identity and well being‘ which encompasses and underpins everything.
The digital is an evolving environment and digital capabilities themselves are fluid conceptions, dependent on context for interpretation. This is what makes working with digital capabilities so challenging but ultimately so relevant and rewarding as well.