By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

The commercial world’s rapid adoption of data-informed decision-making has shifted views about digital curation from the traditional archival perspective to a more life-cycled one, and the field now requires practicing professionals to have a much broader range of knowledge, competencies and skills.

That was the assessment offered by Syracuse University School of Information Studies Dean Elizabeth D. Liddy Thursday as she addressed an audience of academic and business leaders organized by the Board on Research Data and Information, National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

Participating on a panel focused on education and training needs and opportunities, Liddy’s talk was part of the symposium, “Digital Curation in the Era of Big Data: Career Opportunities and Educational Requirements.”  The initiative is part of a consensus study being conducted by the NAS Board on Research Data and Information.

Dean Liddy noted that of the five stages of the data life cycle, three skill areas are traditionally regarded as pure data curation, and they build on the traditional library and information science skills of data collection, data management, and data archiving/preservation.  Many information schools now also teach skills in two added areas: data analytics and data presentation and visualization, she said. Beyond that, an even broader scope of knowledge is considered necessary as colleges prepare to meet the huge coming national demand for data science professionals. Those are the areas of domain knowledge, infrastructure and project management. Those elements, combined with traditional and newer skills training, comprise an interdisciplinary data science education, Liddy said.

Domain knowledge competencies are crucial because employers want to hire professionals who have an understanding of or experience in the domain they will be working in. Knowledge of infrastructure is important since data scientists should be well informed about how infrastructure decisions can impact their hands-on data endeavors. And at the least, rudimentary project management skills—the abilities of planning, assigning, staging and reporting—will prove necessary to accomplish goals within specified timeframes, whether data science employees are members of project teams or are leading them, Liddy observed.

While the three additional competencies “may be even further afield from the initial core concept of curation, our experience has shown them as key to ensuring that students will excel as members of data science teams,” the dean offered.

Research projects on the outcomes of digital curation education and ensuing professional positions and opportunities have been undertaken twice in recent years by the iSchool to assess how it is educating students for their fields, Liddy said. The studies reviewed the types of internships and job opportunities students were being offered.  A 2008 review resulted in the development of a curriculum geared toward educating cyber-infrastructure professionals. A later assessment also looked at the skills employers said they wanted in new hires. That effort resulted in refining that curriculum as eScience.

What the iSchool learned from those initiatives is that students needed and wanted a broader view of the data science field, Liddy reported. She said students wanted to be able to consider the uses of data in the early stages, as well as being able to obtain a fuller understanding of the analytics dependent on the curation practices involved. From that posture, the iSchool developed a new Certificate of Advanced Study in Data Science, its current 15-credit offering, according to Liddy. 

In added panels, the symposium also looked at why digital curation is important for workforce and economic development and workforce demand and career opportunities. Also serving on the educational-focused panel with Liddy were Nancy McGovern, of the MIT Library; Steven Miller, of IBM; Lawrence Hunter, from the University of Colorado, Denver; and Michael Rappa, North Carolina State Institute of Advanced Analytics.

Additional participants in the day-long symposium included representatives from the Institute of Museum and Library Services; the National Science Foundation; Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Harvard University; University of Southern California/Santa Barbara; Cornell University Library; National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration; Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory; Columbia University; and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The NAS Board on Research Data and Information has a website dedicated to its mission. It can be found at: