Digital Curation: Why You Should Consider a Career in eScience

In my last post, I wrote about some surprising career opportunities for library and information science grads. Brand new to this field, I’m having a great time imagining myself in different jobs. So far this week, I’ve pictured myself taking German to prepare for a career as a music librarian (thanks to Rachel Fox von Swearingen), working as an academic and librarianship game-changer like David Lankes, and becoming a data curation expert like Clifford Lynch.

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending a scholarly conversation at Bird Library at Syracuse University with Lynch, Executive Director of the Coalition for Networked Information. Lynch’s passion for eScience and digital curation is obvious; I left the conversation charged up, considering a career in eScience and eager to investigate some of the many questions he raised.

What’s the Future of Libraries? Wrong Question.
According to Lynch, asking about the future of libraries is the wrong question. He believes we should instead ask questions like: What’s the future of scholarly work? What’s the future of education? What’s the future of society? How will libraries play a role?

He provided an example of a possible role for libraries in this technological era: as scholars create models of ancient cities or sequence the DNA of species, they generate massive amounts of data. Agencies that fund this kind of work are increasingly requiring their grantees publicly share data—not only at the end when they’re publishing research findings, but continuously as they go. Gone are the days of researchers compiling data and sitting on it until they’re ready to publish.

The infrastructure for sharing this kind of research information is either poor (among scientific disciplines) or non-existent (in the humanities). This is the future of research. How will libraries participate in the facilitation of this data sharing?

A Brand New Field
Data sharing and issues surrounding storage, preservation and infrastructure for scholarly information and archives is a hot new topic in information science. It’s so new, not everyone agrees on what to call the field and no one has decided how to turn students into experts. Projects like The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s DigCCur are working on it, by developing a curriculum for digital curation education. Michigan State University’s library has a a Digital Curation Librarian and its website describes some of the issues surrounding stewardship of library collections, archives and scholarly information. As scholars continue to generate huge pools of data and collections of botanical specimens and historical records go digital, expect to hear more about this field—and more about job openings for people with the skills to collect, organize, index, and help share data.

Am I a Future Digital Curator?
SU offers a Certificate of Advanced Study in eScience (Editor’s note: this is now known as the CAS in Data Science) and the School of Information Studies offers plenty of technology classes to supplement my Master’s in Library and Information Science and prepare me to be a digital curation specialist. I know courses in digitization and data management can only make a graduate more appealing to any employer, so I’ll be taking some. Even if I decide to apply to jobs at music libraries after all, I’ll still need the skills I’ll have learned in those classes. It’s good to have options.

Do you work in eScience or digital curation? Are you considering a career in the field? I’d love to know more about what types of jobs are out there for those interested in issues of data preservation and sharing. Leave a comment, contact me on Twitter @MiaBreitkopf, or via email at mebreitk@syr.edu.

Mia Breitkopf

Mia Breitkopf is a graduate student pursuing her Master of Science degree in Library and Information Science at Syracuse University. In 2011, she moved to Syracuse to study after seven years in Philadelphia, PA, where she taught public school and worked at The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Mia holds a bachelor's degree in music education from the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam and will graduate with her MLIS in May 2013.

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