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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Curation is Not a Place: Post-Custodial Stewardship for a Do-It-Yourself World

  • Author(s): Abrams, Stephen
  • et al.
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Academic libraries operate in an increasingly crowded information space shared with many new public and private actors characterized by overlapping spheres of intention, capability, and responsibility.  In the areas of digital and data curation, library-hosted repository and preservation solutions are competing against alternatives with a lower barrier to entry, better user experience, and perception of functional sufficiency.  As these are also often free, libraries face increasing difficulty in retaining, let alone increasing, service adoption by their stakeholder communities.  One possible solution is suggested by questioning the often tacit assumption regarding the centrality of custodial stewardship.  What are the consequences of shifting curatorial imperatives away from *holding* a copy of a given information object to *knowing* where all the copies are?  This talk explores ideas for a post-custodial stewardship regime under which curatorial functions are applied in situ to radically-dispersed content.  In today’s do-it-yourself information environment, content will inevitably be manifest in a wide variety of venues.  While these individually may fall well short of embodying desirable levels of reliability and persistence, harnessing enough of them together within a unified post-custodial framework can nevertheless result in desirable global outcomes.  A post-custodial pattern of stewardship embraces, rather than futilely combats, the realities of today’s information ecosystem, filled with many well-funded commodity service providers.  Post-custodial curation has the potential to turn these (probably unassailable) competitors into (possibly unwitting) collaborators, and, through an appropriate division of labor, encourages libraries to direct their finite programmatic resources towards high-impact initiatives where they can uniquely add value.

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