Title: Mandates, Values and Principles (Dimension 1 of Matrix of Digital Curation Knowledge and Competencies)
Author: Christopher (Cal) Lee, School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Draft: April 4, 2009 (Version 17)
Project: DigCCurr (IMLS Grant # RE-05-06-0044)

Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike 3.0 License

The table below summarizes digital curation mandates, values, and principles. This is the first and most fundamental of the DigCCurr Matrix dimensions. The mandates, values and principles are the core reasons why the digital curation functions and skills should be carried out and should serve as the basis for criteria to evaluate whether the digital curation activities have been carried out responsibly and appropriately. The items on the table are often made explicit through professional codes of ethics; industry and professional standards; laws and policies; and design principles.

There are several important points to note about this dimension:

  1. We have not attempted -- nor do we intend to attempt -- a single hierarchical stucture to organize the items on the list. There are numerous ways in which one could potentially nest items within other items. We have instead provided them as a single flat list.
  2. We have not attempted to rank the items. Prioritization and degree of emphasis will depend on where one is working along the other Matrix dimensions. Likewise, different digital curation educational offerings and programs will have many reasons to place heavier emphasis on some items than others. In the curriculum being developed in the DigCCurr project, we do address all of the items on the list to some degree.
  3. The line between mandates, values and principles is often amorphous and difficult to define. Rather than trying to draw crisp boundaries between those three labels, we suggest a working definition for this dimension that is roughly "that which digital curation professionals aspire to advance."
  4. As explained elsewhere, "Within social structures, purposes are often formally enacted through functions; one often addresses and pursues the function itself, rather than directly referencing the purposes it is enacting (i.e. within a given social structure, the function effectively acts as the purpose)." [3] Understanding and appreciating the motivation behind specific professional activities can be extremely important, particularly in changing environments, because the details of the activities are likely to change over time. However, there are always practical limitations on the degree to which any curriculum can (a) elaborate the reasons behind doing things in a certain way, or (b) elaborate the potential activities one might be called upon to carry out in order to advance a given mandate/value/princple. A sound pegagogical approach will combine these two factors in ways that make the mandates/values/princples tangible but also allows students to carry more generalizable lessons into other types of tasks.
Mandate, Value or Principle Explanation or Elaboration
Abstraction Recognizing the value of both promoting and taking advantage of hiding complexity from view for particular purposes, while still acknowledging that the complexity exists and may need to be a focus of attention when engaging in other activities
Accountability Recognizing the unique and significant role that persistent information sources play in holding actors to account (both to themselves and to others) for their actions over time
Adaptibility Recognizing and cultivating the ability of indviduals to respond creatively to new and unexpected situations
Authenticity Understanding the importance of being able to assure users or other stakeholders that given digital resources are what they purport to be, and the circumstances under which one can and should appropriately provide such assurances
Automation Recognizing of the value of automating tasks that can be automated, in order to focus human energy on those that cannot.
Chain of Custody Recognizing the important role that documenting and proving the movement and transformations of digital resources over time play in the assessment of trustworthiness, meaning and evidential value of the resources
Collection Appreciating and understanding the value that digital resources can have when treated as aggregate units over time, rather than simply managing them as sets of discrete data elements
Context Paying serious attenion to the context in which digital objects are created, managed and used. [6] This includes an appreciation for unexpected consequences; importance of social context; limits of technological determinism; and the ways in which values are always embedded in technology.
Continuum Approach Holistic attention to the full span of design, creation, management, use and reuse of digital objects, rather than fixating too heavily one only one part.
Critical Inquiry Digging below the surface level of professional activities to understand why they are undertaken and systematically determining whether and how they might be done better
Diversity Appreciating the types of situtations in which heterogeneity (of perspectives, materials, systems) can be beneficial and desirable
Encapsulation Recognizing the value of both promoting and taking advantage of the loose coupling that can hold between two systems or sub-systems when data or control is always passed as discrete messages through well-defined interfaces [Note: abstraction is a very closely related concept to encapsulation, but the former is more conceptual and strategic, while the latter is more system-focused and tactical]
Evidence Recognizing the importance of curating digital resources in ways that allow the resources to serve as proof of things over time
Informating Attending to opportunities for changing and differently documenting activities in cases when carrying out those activities involves the exchange of symbollically encoded information through computer systems [10]

Recognizing the value of both promoting and taking advantage of "the capability to communicate, execute programs, or transfer data among various functional units in a manner that requires the user to have little or no knowledge of the unique characteristics of those units." [4]

Long Term Understanding and appreciation of the unique design considerations associated with systems and resources that need to persistent for "a period of time long enough for there to be concern about the impacts of changing technologies, including support for new media and data formats, and of a changing user community, on the information being held in a repository." [8]
Modularity Recognizing the value of both promoting and taking advantage of decomposing systems into components that are relatively self-contained and loosely coupled, particularly as these relate to reuse and implementation independence
Open Architecture Recognizing the value of both promoting and taking advantage of architectures that have been purposely designed and maintained to avoid dependencies on particular proprietary technologies or services
Organizational Learning Recognizing and cultivating the ability of organizations to respond creatively to new and unexpected situations, and to take further advantage of successful innovations
Provenance Recognizing the increasingly important role played, within many contexts, by documenting various aspects of the origin of information
Robustness Appreciating the importance of the essential combination of diversity + redundancy + multiple locations [1][3][7][9]
Scale and Scalability Attending to challenges and opportunities related to scaling up approaches and systems both up and down
Significant Properties Understanding that appropriate digital curation strategies depend upon identifying the properties of digital objects that relevant stakeholders or methods have identified as important to reproduce over time, because they impact "quality, usability, rendering, and behaviour" [2] in important ways
Stakeholders Identification and consideration of, planning for and attending to the interests of those who have a legitimate stake in one's digital curation decisions. Common types of potential stakeholders are: current direct users; current indirect users; currently underserved populations; likely future users; those whose lives are documented by digital materials; information producers; donors of content; current and potential funding entities (includes citizens); parents/guardians; other digital curation professionals.
Standardization Recognizing the value of both promoting and taking advantage of formal voluntary consensus processes for developing standards
Sustainability Appreciating the importance and understanding the dynamics of "the set of business, social, technological, and policy mechanisms that encourage the gathering of important information assets into digital preservation systems, and support the indefinite persistence of digital preservation systems, enabling access to and use of the information assets into the long-term future." [5]
Trust Appreciaton for the ways in which professional authority depends upon legitimately gaining trust of those being served; general ways in which trust is gained and lost; and importance of attending to not only to technical competence but also "softer" considerations such as social capital, personal integrity, credibility, honesty and care for the well-being of individuals.


[1] Hargadon, Andrew B., and Yellowlees Douglas. "When Innovations Meet Institutions: Edison and the Design of the Electric Light." Administrative Science Quarterly 46, no. 3 (2001): 476-501.

[2] Hedstrom, Margaret, and Christopher A. Lee. "Significant Properties of Digital Objects: Definitions, Applications, Implications." In Proceedings of the DLM-Forum 2002, Barcelona, 6-8 May 2002: @ccess and Preservation of Electronic Information: Best Practices and Solutions, 218-27. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2002.

[3] Hoorens, Stijn, Jeff Rothenberg, Constantijn van Orange, Martijn van der Mandele, and Ruth Levitt. "Addressing the Uncertain Future of Preserving the Past: Towards a Robust Strategy for Digital Archiving and Preservation." Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2007.

[4] ISO/IEC 2382-1:1993. Information technology -- Vocabulary -- Part 1: Fundamental terms

[5] Lavoie, Brian, Lorraine Eakin, Amy Friedlander, Francine Berman, Paul Courant, Clifford Lynch, and Daniel Rubinfeld. "Sustaining the Digital Investment: Issues and Challenges of Economically Sustainable Digital Preservation." Blue Ribbon Taks Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access, 2008.

[6] Lee, Christopher A. “Taking Context Seriously: A Framework for Contextual Information in Digital Collections.” UNC SILS TR-2007-04. October 18, 2007.

[7] Leifer, Eric Matheson. Actors as Observers: A Theory of Skill in Social Relationships, Harvard Studies in Sociology. New York, NY: Garland, 1991.

[8] Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System (OAIS). Blue Book (Standard). Issue 1. CCSDS 650.0-B-1. January 2002.

[9] von Burg, Urs. The Triumph of Ethernet: Technological Communities and the Battle for the LAN Standard, Innovations and Technology in the World Economy. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.

[10] Zuboff, Shoshana. In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1988.