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Presented at iPRES 2015, The 12th International Conference on Preservation of Digital Objects, Chapel Hill, November 2-6, 2015 (proceedings, pp. 30-37)


Digital curation is a complex of actors, policies, practices, and technologies enabling successful consumer engagement with authentic content of interest across space and time. While digital curation is a rapidly maturing field, it still lacks a convincing unified theoretical foundation. A recent internal evaluation by the University of California Curation Center (UC3) of its programmatic activities led quickly to seemingly simple, yet deceptively difficult-to-answer questions. Too many fundamental terms of curation practice remain overloaded and under-formalized, perhaps none more so than “digital object.” To address these concerns, UC3 is developing a new model for conceptualizing the curation domain. While drawing freely from many significant prior efforts, the UC3 Sept model also assumes that digital curation is an inherently semiotic activity. Consequently, the model considers curated content with respect to six characteristic dimensions: semantics, syntactics, empirics, pragmatics, diplomatics, and dynamics, which refer respectively to content’s underlying abstract meaning or emotional affect, symbolic encoding structures, physical representations, realizing behaviors, evidential authenticity and reliability, and evolution through time. Correspondingly, the model defines an object typology of increasing consumer utility and value: blobs, artifacts, exemplars, products, assets, records, and heirlooms, which are respectively existential, intentional, purposeful, interpretable, useful, trustworthy, and resilient digital objects. Content engagement is modeled in terms of creator, owner, curator, and consumer roles acting within a continuum of concerns for catalyzing, organizing, and pluralizing curated content. Content policy and strategy are modeled in terms of seven high-level imperatives: predilect, collect, protect, introspect, project, connect, and reflect. A consistent, comprehensive, and conceptually parsimonious domain model is important for planning, performing, and evaluating programmatic activities in a rigorous and systematic rather than ad hoc or idiosyncratic manner. The UC3 Sept model can be used to make precise yet concise statements regarding curation intentions, activities, and results.