Investigating Curatorial Models as the Marshall McLuhan Centenary Fellow in Digital Sustainability

Most importantly, I'll be getting to work in my favourite building in North America!
Most importantly, I’ll be getting to work in my favourite building in North America!

Great news! Starting on July 1st, I’m the inaugural Marshall McLuhan Centenary Fellow in Digital Sustainability, held at the University of Toronto’s Digital Curation Institute, which is housed in their Faculty of Information. The DCI is led by Christoph Becker, who I’m really looking forward to working with more over the next 12 months (as well as his great graduate students).

What does this mean? Basically, over the next year I’ll be hosting the following public events in Toronto. This will primarily be taking place in the January – May timeframe, and I will be in Toronto roughly once-a-week during this period. It is also an excuse to be physically proximate to great collaborators: folks at the DCI, Toronto libraries (especially Nich Worby who I’ve worked with quite a bit), and York (where my frequent collaborator Nick Ruest is based).

  • Workshops: I’ll run a web archiving analysis workshop in Toronto, probably focusing on the warcbase platform – perhaps riding the coattails of great virtual machine and repository that Nick Ruest developed. I would also like to run a workshop on Twitter archiving and analysis.
  • Give an Invited Lecture: I’ll be giving a Coach House Institute lecture on the findings of the Fellowship research project, discussed below;
  • Organize a Marquee Event: I’d like to help the DCI with bringing in a high-profile invited speaker to discuss web archiving. Maybe I can score some free canapés.

Most importantly, I’ll be carrying out a research project on qualitative comparisons of web archival content, specifically the kinds of content curated using a social media approach versus a manually-curated professional one.

Nick Ruest, Jimmy Lin, and myself looked at this in a quantitative way in our recent Joint Conference on Digital Libraries paper “Gatekeepers versus the Masses“. Using warcbase, the plan is to work with the DCI, graduate students, faculty, and other collaborators in Toronto who might be interested, and begin to develop a model to really begin to detect qualitative differences between collections.

My hypothesis is that scholarly findings from a Twitter-based web archive would differ substantially from a professionally curated collection. Our JCDL paper I think really hints that this is the case, given the extremely low overlap between these kinds of collections. The former is a laser-focused snapshot of collections of immediate interest from potentially millions of users, while the latter is a broader collection of a still relatively narrow band of domains selected by subject-matter experts

Decisions around content selection for digital curation is a pressing problem facing historians and other practitioners: trying to weigh the differences between the institutional biases of professional curators versus the more ephemeral content that is perhaps favoured by social media users. This speaks to ongoing debates between different approaches to digital curation, as the “custodial” approach begins to widen out to more “pragmatic” approaches.

These research questions are a starting point – an ability to begin to explore the conceptual foundation of web archiving, the role of content curators, selection, and the ongoing debates between Archival Science and web archiving as it has evolved. I hope that these can be conversations that we can have during my tenure at the Digital Curation Institute.

3 thoughts on “Investigating Curatorial Models as the Marshall McLuhan Centenary Fellow in Digital Sustainability

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