UMD iSchool, a Hub of Revolutionary Digital Curation Research and Technology Development

Hayleigh Moore - August 25, 2020

Exploring the UMD iSchool's history of being integral to the advancement of digital curation.

Photo of digital curation work at the DCIC

Since its founding in 1965, the University of Maryland College of Information Studies (UMD iSchool) has consistently prepared leaders in information science and librarianship through its partnerships, experiential learning opportunities, and curriculum taught by distinguished faculty. The iSchool equips graduates with the knowledge to develop the next generation of cutting-edge innovations transforming the ways we create, manage, use, preserve, and access records and information. Here are some of the ways the iSchool has been an integral hub for revolutionary developments in digital curation research and technologies throughout its rich history.

The Digital Curation Innovation Center (DCIC) is a one-of-a-kind research center housed within the iSchool, sponsoring interdisciplinary projects that explore the integration of archival research data and technology to generate new forms of analysis for historical research engagement. The DCIC provides students the opportunity to work on projects that address real archival and information management challenges faced by different organizations, including government agencies, academic institutions, and corporations.

One of the DCIC’s current projects includes the Overseas Pension Project, a big cultural data project stemming from the collaboration of historical societies, universities, and individuals led by Dr. Kenneth Heger, Research Associate at the DCIC and retired iSchool Senior Lecturer. Heger and his team explored mass amounts of data trapped within 200-year-old archival documents that the team is aiming to publicly release for use by target communities. These communities include historians and historical societies to access correspondence dating back to the 19th and 20th centuries, genealogists and families to explore databases and documents pertaining to family members or Civil War figures, and economists and sociologists to quickly navigate significant immigration and economic data to conduct statistical studies about this period in American history.

The International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL), a free online collection of the best in children’s literature, was founded by faculty researchers at the UMD Human-Computer Interaction Lab (HCIL). The ICDL aspires to have every culture and language represented so that every child can know and appreciate the riches of children’s literature from the world community. Many children grow up without knowledge of their family’s heritage and first language, so the ICDL was developed to provide children and their families with free access to the books of their culture, as well as the majority culture, regardless of where they live, with over 4,600 books in 59 different languages.

The ICDL was founded by Dr. Allison Druin, Professor Emerita at the iSchool, former Director of the HCIL at the iSchool, and current Associate Provost for Research and Strategic Partnerships at the Pratt Institute, Dr. Benjamin B. Bederson, former Director of the HCIL and Professor Emeritus at the UMD Department of Computer Science, and Dr. Ann Carlson Weeks, Professor of the Practice Emerita at the iSchool and former Executive Director of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA). The website is maintained by Anne Rose, Managing Director of the Future of Information Alliance and Assistant Director of Technology of the HCIL, who is responsible for the digital book processing and cataloging efforts, including licensing, and managing the volunteer translators.

The iSchool provides its faculty, staff, and students with the freedom to pursue research questions they are passionate about by offering access to its globally-recognized research centers and labs. These resources have been essential for the next generation of specialists in cultivating the importance and ubiquity of digital curation in every field of work.

Dr. Katrina Fenlon, Assistant Professor in the iSchool, focuses her research on advancing knowledge ecosystems and sustaining digital cultural collections, with the goal of supporting communities that rely on digital collections for documenting cultural heritage and advancing humanities research. Fenlon also directs the iSchool’s National Agricultural Library Digital Curation Fellowship program, a research partnership that pairs up to one dozen iSchool students every semester with real-world digital curation projects across the National Agricultural Library. Through these fellowships, students have the opportunity to gain real-world experience and contribute to advancing research on topics including digital and web archiving, recovering scientific data from legacy collections, enhancing user experience of historical digital collections, and developing digital preservation policies and tools.

The UMD iSchool offers an Archives and Digital Curation specialization as part of the college’s Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS) degree program. To learn more about this specialization and about the MLIS program, visit the MLIS website. In addition, the UMD iSchool has pioneered a first-of-its-kind specialization in digital curation for the undergraduate InfoSci major.