With the increasing interest and discussion around managing information in an information-overloaded world, we noticed that there are varied opinions around the concept and definition of curating in social media. What once was strictly the realm of Museum and Library Science now appears in the definitions of various online activities. I believe that Social Media Curating or Content Curation is very similar, but not yet the same as traditional museum and library curating activities. However, it is also my view that Social Media and content curation are quickly evolving to achieve the same high standards as traditional museum and library curating.
So, what is the definition of a modern day museum or library curator? According to the New World Encyclopedia, a Curator is a person “who manages, administers, or organizes a collection for exhibition—at a museum, library, archive, zoo, and others. The term originates from the Latin (cura), which means “care.” The Encyclopedia of Communication and Information goes further to describe curation activities as part of the work of artistic object repositories, such as museums, as well as information repositories such as libraries and archives. Curators actively research specific topics or subject matters for relevant artifacts, physical or informational. These curators then acquire these artifacts and organize them into specific collections. Curators of museums are also required to prepare educational activities around their museum or library institutions. Thus the curator “establishes or reinforces the circumstances of the existence of artifacts, their relationship to life, culture, or custom, and their relevance both to the museum’s mission and its audience.”
Therefore, to compare social media and museum or library curating we should ask: Do social media curators conduct research around specific topics? Do social media curators select the best information, around these topics, and then organize this information into relevant collections? Do social media curators represent curated, social media in a particular narrative that highlights the relationship and relevance between each artifact of information? Finally, do social media curators then present their collections to share with the public?
Although we may aspire to organize and educate, not all social media and content curation activity reach the bar set by museum and library curating. Most content curators are researchers and disseminators of topics or artifacts of information to which they may or may not have devoted substantial time. They also may or may not analyze, interpret, and share their information collected in specific online repositories. Thus, content and social media curation must fully satisfy these important characteristic of curation to achieve the definition. Content and Social Media Curation must be conducted over time around very specific topics of research. Curating is not about general bookmarking and filtering activities. Content curating must include the analysis and organization a comprehensive collection of linked information artifacts. Content curating must then present this information for the public in a format that allows easy understanding of the relationship between these artifacts of content.
Content curation, supported by technology, is already moving to address its shortcomings. New technology is helping new curators quickly build collections of linked information around specific topics. It is now easy to tag and categorize narrow topics of research. Also content management systems make it easy to publish these collections for public review and learning.
I think it’s only a matter of “Internet Time” before content and social media curation achieves all the characteristics of traditional museum and library curation. If all artifacts are representations of data, then the content and social media curators have a bright future ahead.