The difference between digital curation and digital preservation

If you work in the museum and heritage sector you’ll be very familiar with the terms ‘curation’ and ‘preservation’.

A museum curator is responsible for artefacts and they develop collections by acquiring, cataloguing, restoring, preserving and promoting these objects to the world. Preservation refers to keeping these valuable works protected, and involves a number of techniques and best practices depending on the type of artefact being preserved.

But what do these terms mean when applied to digital artefacts and records?

READ MORE: Case Study: ResourceSpace + The Ashmolean Museum

What is digital curation?

Just like with traditional curation, digital curation is the process of collecting, organising and maintaining assets, but rather than manuscripts, Roman coins or ancient pottery, a digital curator manages digital assets like images, videos, audio files and documents.

Digital curation involves managing these digital records, ensuring they’re easily accessible for relevant team members and third party stakeholders.

Why is digital curation important?

There are two primary benefits of a digital curation strategy:

  1. It enables researchers to study artefacts without having to manually handle the physical objects. Every time an artefact is handled there is a possibility that the object will be damaged, while simply exposing ancient artefacts to the air can lead to degradation. However, once an artefact has been digitally curated with a number of detailed and high resolution images, the frequency with which artefacts have to be removed from their environmentally-controlled storage is greatly reduced.
  2. Museums and heritage institutions exist to study and preserve objects of historic, cultural or artistic significance, but they’re also responsible for bringing those objects to the world. While the physical objects can be displayed in museums and exhibitions, digital curation allows institutions to promote these artefacts to a much wider, international audience.

What is digital preservation?

If traditional preservation is the act of maintaining the physical integrity of artefacts, digital preservation is the long term management and maintenance of digital assets. Digital preservation is an essential activity within the digital curation lifecycle, and is defined in the Digital Preservation Handbook as:

... [T]he series of managed activities necessary to ensure continued access to digital materials for as long as necessary  ...(digital preservation) refers to all of the actions required to maintain access to digital materials beyond the limits of media failure or technological and organisational change.

Why is digital preservation important?

Although not as vulnerable as physical assets, there are still a number of potential risks to the integrity of digital content:

  • File integrity is crucial for maintaining reliability and accuracy of digital information. To ensure digital integrity files must be complete, unaltered and not corrupted. Files can lose integrity over time as they’re downloaded, modified and reuploaded. 
  • Software development may leave content inaccessible or unusable if the software used to interpret it becomes obsolete.
  • A lack of resources may make it impossible to store and manage digital content, for example if on-premise server or cloud storage limits are not closely monitored.
  • The employee responsible for digital preservation leaves the institution and the necessary activities are neglected.

A comprehensive digital preservation strategy—in itself a part of the digital curation strategy—is essential for mitigating these risks and ensuring that digital assets can be utilised for the long term.

How Digital Asset Management software supports digital curation

For a digital curation strategy to be effective, it requires a single source of truth for all of those digital assets, and a Digital Asset Management system is just that.

READ MORE: 9 things museum Digital Asset Management software needs to include

A DAM acts as a central repository, storing all digital assets in one place, from high-resolution images through to multimedia files and related documents. A DAM will also manage:

  • All of the digital asset’s metadata, providing detailed context to the asset as well as enhancing searchability.
  • Access control to define who can view, edit and share specific assets.
  • File integrity through a combination of technical measures, security processes and organisational policies. The checksum of every file will be monitored for changes and users will be notified if any are found. The system will also retain a detailed version history and block unauthorised modifications, while backups will be in place in the event that a file needs to be restored.
  • Integrations across an institution's entire tech stack, including the Collections Management System, Content Management System, social media profiles and more. For example, ResourceSpace can be integrated with The Museum System (TMS) and MuseumPlus, EMu as well as WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, Adobe Photoshop and InDesign, BrandStencil and more.

ResourceSpace is trusted by museum and heritage institutions all over the world to support with their digital curation and preservation efforts, including The Ashmolean Museum, The History of Science Museum, and the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

To find out more why we’re the DAM of choice for this sector, why not book your free, 30-minute demo below? We’ll show you all of the key features for museum and heritage institutions, as well as answer any question you might have.