Findings for the Future: UCSD’s Research Data Curation Program

Posted by Alison Spencer, UCB Student Intern at UCOP. Which is more fragile, digital data or a photo? While many people assume digital is more durable than analog, it is actually the other way around. Say a photo has a piece missing, or a corner torn off. The image likely remains identifiable. But if part of a digital file is lost, the data can become unreadable.

David Minor, director of UC San Diego’s Research Data Curation Program, used the above example to illustrate the importance of the program’s mission to safeguard campus research findings. “With the ever expanding supply of computerized data available, preservation is becoming a real issue. This is a rapidly growing field all around the world and certainly in UC,” said Minor.

The Storage Process

Guaranteeing long-term data viability requires more than just saving files. “If you don’t understand what the file is and how to use it, it’s useless. So you need to include metadata,” Minor said. Metadata consists of facts about the process, personnel, and context behind results. Minor and his colleagues train researchers in how to incorporate metadata into their workflow, so that when the time comes to store their findings, the necessary background information is already there. That way, the files are clear to future users. “As more and more significant studies in medicine, social sciences, and other disciplines need to be redone for verification, it is vital they have been properly stored so later users can understand them,” Minor said.

Part of a Larger Network

The Research Data Curation Program backs up the data it stores to Chronopolis, a digital archive composed of UCSD and two partner organizations: the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado and the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies. Chronopolis operates on the principle that data must be stored in multiple locations to keep it safe. This protects against potential damages to any one file collection, whether in the form of a natural disaster, security breach, or software malfunction. Chronopolis is also a member of the Digital Preservation Network, the largest data repository in the country. As such, UCSD has become part of a wider group of leaders in data management.

Future of the Program

The program has come a long way from when it was founded and struggled to gain traction. “This is a pretty exciting time for us. Now we’re looking at the next generation of steps,” Minor said. Plans include finding ways to collaborate with more organizations and streamline the curation process through new tools, services, and catalogs.

The program’s archived data can currently be accessed through the UCSD library’s Digital Collections website. If you don’t have time to check it out today, no worries. It’ll all still be there when you do — 10, 20, or even 100 years from now.

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