Visual arts research data management (VARDM) seems to be a burgeoning subfield among art librarians and visual resource professionals that will be increasingly relevant to the success of emerging professionals in these fields. VARDM is the subject of a workshop at the VRA Annual Conference in March and, with the advent of data management services and interdisciplinary research, we can expect to see data management spread beyond the sciences into the arts and humanities.
VARDM is currently more developed in the UK than the US, due to a series of JISC funded projects that have investigated the topic since 2007. These projects have labored to define the field, its component parts and the different roles that exist for researchers and data managers. The projects have made their various outputs available – most notably a series of online training toolkits aimed at students, researchers and data managers.
A common thread among these projects is the struggle to define key terms like ‘research data’, ‘data set’, and ‘research output’ as they pertain to the visual and performing arts. Some definitions that recur in the existing literature appear below.
- “A useful point to consider is that the research data of today may well be the special collections of the future” (cited in Murtagh, 2011)
- “Research data is digital information created in the course of research but which isn’t a published research output. Research data excludes purely administrative records. The highest priority research data is that which underpins a research output” (Research Data Management Glossary)
- “Data which arises out of, and evidences, research” (Garrett and Gramstadt, 2012)
Research Output – regardless of presentation, is a planned public statement of new knowledge or interpretation
Data Set – research collated in a certain way to substantiate a particular interpretation, analysis, or argument. May not always lead to a research output (Garrett and Grandstadt 2012)
Evidence – Evidence which is used or created to generate new knowledge and interpretations. (Garrett 2012)
The concept of the ‘visual arts researcher’ is a broad one, drawing from the fields of art, architecture, art history, design, dance, performance, etc. and including both practitioners and researchers from within each – including those who would identify simultaneously as both. Thus, ‘research data’ is understood to encompass sketches, samples, notebooks, process materials, reference materials, and any number of other things. Thinking about VARDM poses interesting challenges because, in addition to the logistics that need to be resolved in order to effectively preserve and provide access to the materials throughout their life cycle, one must constantly be distinguishing between the creative process and the research process, all the while recognizing moments when they intersect and align.
To date, most of the efforts to tackle these problems and get a handle on research data in the visual arts have been funded in various ways by JISC in the UK. Between 2007 and 2009, JISC funded a project called Kultur which developed an institutional repository model for research output in the creative and applied arts. Kultur was succeeded by a project called Kultivate which applied the best practice developed by Kultur. In August 2010, the JISC Managing Research Data Program (MRDP) funded the CAiRO project (Curating Artistic Research Output) which ran until July 2011 with the goal of creating a teaching and learning module designed for researchers at the postgraduate level.
CAiRO was followed by the KAPTUR project (also funded by JISC MRDP) from 2011 – 2013 which, “investigated the nature and scope of research data in the visual arts”, and, “created a sectoral model of best practice in the management of research data in the visual arts, consisting of: toolkits, workshops, case studies, institutional policies, a technical requirements analysis, and business and sustainability plans”. For more information, see the project’s outputs – in particular the KAPTUR Environmental Assessment Report. The report investigates issues of terminology, the role of the visual arts researcher and the visual arts research data lifecycle by exploring the following two research questions:
What is the nature of visual arts research data?
How can we support the needs of visual arts researchers through institutional infrastructure
KAPTUR also developed three of the previously mentioned online toolkits designed to provide an introduction into research data in the visual arts and its management – two of the toolkits are geared towards researchers (Introduction to Research Data, Data Management Planning) and the third is intended for visual arts data managers (Managing the Material).
KAPTUR was succeeded by a group called VADS4R (Visual Arts Data Skills for Researchers) from February 2013-July 2014 which built upon the work of KAPTUR by piloting and further developing additional training plans and making the KAPTUR toolkits available. VADS4R created two additional toolkits: How to Avoid a Data Disaster and Writing the AHRC Technical Plan.
Within the VADS4R toolkits the merits of effective research data management are discussed at great length and I will not reproduce all of them here. The concise version, available on the project site, is as follows:
Managing your research data can…
…Ensure you meet research funder expectations
…Make it easier to understand successive iterations of your research
…Make it easier to re-visit your research if changes are required, for example by a journal editor or exhibition curator
…Enable easier access to your research for re-use in other projects
…Avoid the serious implications of having to re-do your research from scratch, for example due to data loss or inaccessible data
For emerging professionals, the point of interest here is not so much the history of VARDM projects in the UK, but the methodical aims and prodigious outputs of these projects which are exceptionally well documented and easily accessible online. While earning my MLIS I was not aware of any coursework addressing VARDM and I would be very interested to hear about any programs that offer this kind of material or institutions that are actively addressing it.
In the recent conference co-sponsored by ArLiSNAP and VREPS, “Visualizing the Future: New Perspectives in Art Librarianship”, Kate Thornhill of Lelsley University College of Art and Design discussed the early stages of her foray into VARDM. If you’re interested in initiating VARDM programming at your institution, I would recommend reviewing her presentation in addition to the VADS4R toolkits and Kultur outputs.
For more information: