Tuesday 5 January 2010

Digital Curation Centre User Survey 2009: Highlights

My colleague Angus Whyte has provided the following brief summary of two surveys carried out in Phases 1 and 2 of the Digital Curation Centre, in 2006 and 2009 respectively, as part of our evaluations. In retrospect, we might have done better revising the questions for the second survey rather more than we did; nevertheless I thought it worth while sharing this with you.

Angus writes:

In 2009 DCC users were surveyed, repeating a similar survey carried out in 2006. In the highlights below we draw conclusions both from the more recent results and also changes over the 3 year period. Both surveys were publicised on the DCC website and via several mailing lists, principally the DCC-Associates and (in 2009) the JISC sponsored Research-Dataman list.

Our conclusions take into account that the online questionnaire was self-completed by a self-selected group of respondents (75 in 2009 and 125 in 2006). DCC Associates (640 approx.) provided the bulk of the responses[1]. The results indicated broad patterns, relatively wide differences and consistent responses over the two surveys, even though these are not taken to be statistically representative.


In both surveys around 90% of respondents are familiar with the term ‘digital curation’ and regard it as a critical issue within their project or unit. The DCC is consistently given as the main source of information on curation issues by around 70% of respondents, with “on the job challenges/ research” second at around 60%.

Between the two surveys there is a large jump (from 13% to 32%) in the number of respondents indicating that DCC has been “very effective” in raising awareness about digital curation, and those believing it to be “slightly effective” has correspondingly fallen from 53% to 31%.

Of a list of DCC resources, five are identified as “most helpful” by at least 1 in 5 of the 2009 survey respondents, these being (in descending order) the DCC website, Briefing Papers (of various sorts), the DCC Curation Lifecycle Model, Case Studies, and the Digital Curation Manual.

Respondents universally associate digital curation with “ensuring the long-term accessibility and re-usability of digital information”, and large majorities (around 90%) also relate it to “performing archiving activities on digital information such as selection, appraisal and retention” and “ensuring the authenticity, integrity and provenance of digital information are maintained over time”. Rather lower but still significant numbers (around 60%) associate digital curation with “managing digital information from its point of creation” and “managing risks to digital information” – although many more highlight the latter in 2009 (up to 84% from 61%).

Curation or preservation addresses risks to the respondents’ organisations with “loss of organisational memory” consistently topping their list (identified by around 75% of respondents) and “business risks” second, identified by just under half, again across both surveys.

More than two thirds indicate that their main reasons for curating and preserving digital information are its educational/research or historical value; in both years a minority cites other reasons. Similarly, the main obstacles are indicated as financial or staff resources, with around half also indicating lack of awareness or appropriate policies.

For around 40% of respondents, management and preservation of digital information has an indefinite timescale. For a further 15% or so it is “beyond the life of the project/organisation”, and similar numbers indicate these are tasks “for the life of the project/organisation”.

The 2009 survey respondents are no strangers to the ‘data deluge’, most dealing with at least 100Gb and some (7%) more than 100Tb. Overall 79% expect this to increase in the next two years, surprisingly 3% do not, while 7% do not know. Most need to manage a mixture of open and proprietary formats, and report a wide variety of formats in use, predominantly common office applications, PDF documents and multimedia formats. Curation and preservation challenges are most frequently identified with obsolete proprietary formats. Image, video, and geospatial data are also often identified as challenges, as are web sites combining these.

Respondents were also asked in 2009 about re-use, and around a third indicate that research data is re-used internally, with similar numbers offering data generated by their project/unit for re-use by others, or re-using external data.

Access issues facing research projects/units are identified in both surveys and along similar lines; intellectual property rights (e.g. copyright) is the most frequently cited issue, followed by “privacy or ethical issues”, however “embargo on research findings” is least prevalent, identified by only a fifth of respondents.

Asked about funding for curation and preservation, responses show no clear picture. Around half of 2009 respondents indicate funding is “accounted for in project or institutional budget”. A large minority have no explicit funding for curation and preservation, and where resources are available these are pooled from other funded areas (e.g. IT budget for project or organisation) or research grants. Spending on curation/preservation is less than £50,000 (for around half of those respondents who were aware of this). Around half are unsure whether spending will increase or decrease, with the remainder being evenly split.

Detailed questions and response data are available on request.

Angus Whyte, Digital Curation Centre

[1] The DCC Associates membership list includes UK data organisations, leading data curators, overseas and supranational standards agencies, and industrial/business communities. Currently research data creators are under-represented (information from registration details).


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