An introduction to the Data Curation Lifecycle Model — Where do Librarians fit in?

The other day I read a fantastic article by P. Bryan Heidorn (2011) on the emerging role of data curation and e-science in the world of libraries. As an archivist and a librarian, I see amazing potential for our skill set to fit nicely into this speciality. First, libraries already have the infrastructure and staff to help stake a claim for data curation. For academic librarians, we are already situated in an environment where research is conducted. Second, our love of information and the ability to manage it effectively should speak volumes to researchers who need policies and guidelines developed so that their data can be accessed,  retrieved and preserved for future research.

One glaring issue with data curation is that not many librarians are knowledgeable enough about the topic to feel comfortable managing a large scale project. This is when I read about the Digital Curation Centre Lifecycle Model in Heidorn’s article. The Lifecycle Model is an excellent introduction to the field of data curation, and I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight some of its important points in this post. What I particularly like about this model is that it works through the steps of data curation systematically:

Actions of the Data Curation Lifecycle

Describe and Represent Information

Use appropriate standards in order to describe metadata so that it can be controlled over the long term

Ensure that all metadata and associated digital material can be represented and understood in appropriate formats

Build Preservation Strategy

Important to plan for preservation throughout the data lifecycle

Planning for preservation requires the careful management and administration of data creation during its lifecycle

Collaborate, Supervise, and Participate

Supervise data creation activities and assist in the creation of the standards to be used, the tools to create data and appropriate software to create it

This action is an excellent place for librarians or archivists, as they can assist in the collaborative and managerial duties of ensuring that data is created appropriately and preserved

Curate and Preserve

Take managerial and administrative actions that will promote curation and preservation throughout the lifecycle. Keeping a close eye on the creation of data and encouraging best practices through policies and standards will improve the organization of data throughout its life cycle


Plan your Data Creation

Build a strategy and policy that will address how data will be captured and stored

Create OR Receive 

Create data using descriptive and technical metadata; also include preservation metadata if appropriate

Build a collecting policy in order to be prepared to receive data from  data creators, other archives and data centres

Appraise and Select 

Create an appraisal and selection policy with data creators and curators. Once this policy has been established, evaluate the data and select for long-term curation and preservation

Take in and Transfer

After appraisal and selection have been completed, transfer the data to an archive or repository and adhere to the guidelines that were created to ensure the activity is completed properly

Preservation Measures

Take steps to ensure the long-term preservation of authoritative nature of data

From an archivist’s perspective, data must remain authentic, reliable and usable while maintaining its integrity. Click here to read archival definitions of authenticity, reliability and integrity from the Interpares2 terminology database

Store for Access, Reuse and Retrieval

Store data using appropriate standards to make sure they remain usable and can be retrieved easily


A very important component, this requires creating new data from the original material. Transforming data can mean turning the material into a different format or creating a subset of results

Where do librarians fit in?

  • (Academic) Librarians can fit data preservation into their existing management and administration. This would require working with researchers where they already work.
  • Data curation activities of multiple people can be described as communities (Heidorn, 2011). Librarians must collaborate closely with these communities because they are the ones developing new standards and policies. Staying in constant communication with these creators is essential to access, appraise and preserve data for future use
  • Librarians must assist in the development of planning and storing data. This approach, in turn will assist scientists creating data as they will have little understanding of preservation practices
  • Librarians can serve as monitors for the creation process and the use of new tools while keeping abreast of the skills needed to perform these tasks
  • Appraisal policies should be developed in collaboration with the data curators and creators — after all this is a very important step in the curation process

Final thoughts

Digital preservation and data curation are two areas that librarians should be very keen to pursue. With the influx of research data that is created, there should be plenty of work out there for librarians to utilize their skills. The collaborative and organizational nature of data curation work is ideal for a librarian’s skill set. The only issue is that many library professionals do not have a solid grasp on the intricate details and complexities that are involved. Librarians should attempt to educate themselves on how to effectively manage data in a research context. Because of my archival background, I feel as though I have a better understanding of the importance of preservation and archival integrity of data in order for it to be available for future use. Below I have included some links to universities and other sites that offer information on this topic.

University of Arizona – Digital Information Management

University of Illinois – Data Curation Education Program

University of North Carolina – DigCCurr

Other useful links:

Digital Curation Centre

Digital Curation Exchange

International Journal of Digital Curation

Purdue-UIUC Data Curation Profiles Project

University of Virginia – Scientific Data Consulting


Digital Curation Centre (2012). DCC Curation Lifecycle Model. Retrieved from: on July 20, 2012.

Heidorn, P. B. (2011). The Emerging Role of Libraries in Data Curation and E-science. Journal of Library Administration, 51(7-8), 662-672. doi:10.1080/01930826.2011.601269


14 thoughts on “An introduction to the Data Curation Lifecycle Model — Where do Librarians fit in?

    1. Hi Dean,

      Thanks for your comment. I definitely think medical librarians should curate data, but only if they have the proper training and understanding of continuity and preservation. In short, I think they should be involved with all of your above mentioned types of data, we just have to make sure we can do it properly. I think we have a lot to learn from existing data curators, and we need to actively seek training to improve these skills.

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