IT managers and CIOs might soon have a counterpart in libraries, museums and art galleries around the world: digital curators.

As cultural organizations try to reach new audiences online and integrate their collections into multimedia-friendly exhibits, they are starting to face the same challenges as corporate enterprises who have been moving away from paper-based processes, according to EMC senior director of thought leadership marketing, Gil Press. These challenges include not only figuring out what technology they need to digitize content but what gets preserved first, what can wait and what doesn’t need to be digitized at all.

“We really see the world of information science and the world of IT coming together,” said Press. “In the information science sector they’ve coined a new term for it, which is digital curators. These are a new class of information expert.” Press likened the role to that of records manager in some organizations, or even CIO in others.

EMC recently began accepting applications from Canadian organizations to its EMC Heritage Information Heritage Initiativewhich assists organizations that are trying to preserve cultural information.

Press said EMC has already been working on digitization projects with the Smithsonian Museum and the JFK Library in Boston. The program is in some respects a way to showcase EMC’s technology, such as its Centerra content-addressable storage system, as well as its Documentum content management software. But Press said organizations that go through this process often require more staff as well to deal with cataloguing and indexing the content. Like enterprises that have to have content in a certain condition to meet compliance requirements, Press said digitization is all about the details.

“People will think it’s good enough to scan a book or document at 300 dpi, but in many of these projects, you really require much higher resolution, like 600 dpi,” he said. “It’s information that has a handwritten note or a memo and when you put it in the Internet, you don’t want to lose that. You want to replicate as much as you can the experience you see in the library.”

EMC also offers the Heritage Trust Grant Program, which offers cash grants of anywhere from US$5,000 to US$15,000 to smaller organizations. This program could involve traditional libraries and historical societies but also archives and records of a local business, according to EMC. The deadline for applications is Nov. 30. Early applicants of the EMC Heritage grant include the Galt Museum in Lethbridge, Alta., which already hosts a number of still images on its Web site.

Greg Ellis, an archivist with the museum, said the money from EMC will go towards digitizing the approximately 300 films at its disposal. That’s not a lot of content, but he said the films range in length and quality and that’s where the digitization becomes more challenging.

The Galt Museum hopes putting its collection online will pique interest in visiting its physical building, which was renovated last year, but also to create a new relationship with users.

“This was a mining and farming community. A lot of people moved in and out of this region and their descendents have scattered all over the world,” he said, adding that genealogists are regular users.

“If someone wanted a copy of a book or a photograph, you’d have to take it to a commercial darkroom, bring it back and mail it out. That took time – up to a month or more,” he said. “Now if someone e-mails me and wants a picture of their dad because he was in the prisoner of war camp here, I can do that in five minutes. On the service side, it’s been amazing.”

Like regular enterprises, Press said cultural institutions face the difficulty of trying to preserve something indefinitely, without knowing for certain how formats might change over time. Ellis agreed, adding that it means collecting the right hardware and software along with the content itself.

“That’s something we didn’t have to do in the traditional world of photographs and paper. A piece of paper is a piece of paper,” he said. “Archives are now building in budgets for migration strategies for data.”

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