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Finding the Best of Both Worlds: Bridging Research and Archives at ETH Zurich



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ETH Zurich, the leading research university in
continental Europe, has a long tradition of preserving
its valuable records and data for future generations. In
particular, the ETH Library provides professional archival
services for unique analogue and digital material from the
ETH’s elds of research, teaching, and administration.
ETH Zurich University Archives
The ETH Zurich University Archives were founded in
1999 and include the ETH Library’s manuscript collection
established in the 1940s. Today, it has about 4,000 shelf
metres of analogue material. As ETH Zurich was among
the early adopters of digital of ce and lab technology,
the University Archives are increasingly faced with the
processing of digital documents and data of historical
value. According to their legal mandate for the long
term preservation of administrative data, th e University
Archives use the digital infrastructure provided by the
Digital Curation Of ce, while the archival description
process is carried out by a team of professional archivists.
When it comes to research material, the University
Archives and the Digital Curation Of ce have established
a division of labour. The University Archives are
in charge of the analogue material and the Digital
Curation Of ce is in charge of the digital material. The
ETH Library has long pursued a strategy of collecting
Ana Sesartic and Marion
Wullschleger discuss how to
manage both analogue and
digital data.
the best of
both worlds:
research and
archives at
ETH Zurich Das Polytechnikum 1865, later ETH Zurich, S. Zurlinden Hundert Jahre: Bilder aus der
Geschichte der Stadt Zürich in der Zeit von 1814–1914 (1914), image available under
Wikimedia Commons uploaded by Roland zh
ETH Zurich at twilight, image available under Creative Commons ETH Bibliotek
Science and Archives
research material and personal papers from faculty and
alumni as they constitute valuable sources for historical
scienti c research. Archivists are in regular contact with
(retired) faculty in order to identify valuable scienti c
material and personal papers, which are then appraised,
arranged, and professionally preserved. The University
Archives regularly digitise and publish research material
and historical private papers online on the platform
e-manuscripta ( Furthermore,
highlights from various collections are regularly
published on the blog ETHeritage
providing training to researchers to improve data and
records management.
providing workable management practices both for
data and documents.
raising awareness among university staff and
researchers in general (e.g. through colloquia).
It is important for information professionals within an
organisation to know each other’s services and areas of
expertise in order to be able to refer researchers to the right
contact person. Hybrid research material (i.e. both analogue
and digital) will continue to be the norm for decades to come.
From our own personal professional experience at ETH
Zurich, we believe that close cooperation across the
disciplines (cf. gure 1), from scientists to archivists, data
curators, records managers, and IT-specialists, will yield the
best results for preserving scienti c and cultural heritage for
generations to come.
Ana Sesartic and Marion Wullschleger
ETH Library, ETH Zurich
 For an overview of ETH Zurich’s diverse landscape of archives and special collections see
 C.J. Huber, "
Digitale Langzeitarchivierung im Hochschularchiv der ETH Zürich – Eine
Herausforderung für das Archivmanagement
" in B. Rehse and Irina Schwab, eds.,
Archivmanagement: Ressourcen nutzen, Potentiale erkennen. Frühjahrstagung der
Fachgruppe 8 im Verband deutscher Archivarinnen und Archivare e.V. (2015, Leipzig), pp.
 -units/o ce-of-research.html
 See A. Sesartic et al. in ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf., 5, 6 (2016), p. 91; doi: 10.3390/ijgi5060091.
Science and Archives
Figure 1 - Interactions between di erent actors across the disciplines
In the future, the University Archives might play a more
central role in curating digital research data. Notably, the
University Archives have decades of experience in handling
copyright and data protection issues. This is especially
relevant for unpublished research material or data whose
owners are no longer at ETH Zurich.
Digital Curation Offi ce
One of the Digital Curation Of ce’s roles within the ETH
Library is to provide a point of contact for technical and
conceptual questions regarding long-term preservation and
management of research data. As the management of research
data throughout its life cycle is both a key prerequisite for
effective data sharing and ef cient long-term preservation,
the Digital Curation Of ce also offers training and consulting
services for researchers from early on in the data life cycle.
This starts with general consulting regarding compliance
and support during creation of data management plans. It
continues with the offer of data archiving at the ETH Data
Archive and publication services as well as the creation of
DOIs for easier citation and re-use of data. In order to cover
the entire data life cycle, the ETH Library is also collaborating
with ETH Zurich’s Scienti c IT-Services, which offers
IT-services and tools like ELN/LIMS to the researchers for
handling data mainly during the active research phase.
The signi cance of research data management is steadily
increasing for researchers and funders as well as in curricula
and good scienti c practice, as stated in ETH Zurich’s
Guidelines for Research Integrity. The ETH Library
collaborates with the Technology Transfer Of ce and the
Of ce of Research regarding intellectual property and
research ethics issues respectively.
With the growing digitisation of science and society, a
curation gap is opening between research practice and
curation needs. The ETH Library is striving to intensify
collaborations with new generations of researchers in order to
promote a mutual learning process, tackle new challenges and
close this gap. For a technical university like ETH Zurich, it is
especially useful to have staff with a background in science in
order to strengthen the ties between archives and research.
Pointers for the future: interdisciplinary cooperation
Analogue and digital archivists face similar challenges:
research data, records, and private papers are often managed
poorly and lack a stringent system or coherent metadata
to understand their context. It is thus imperative to bridge
archives and research by:
... Since then, it has included the opportunity of publishing research data (ETH Library, 2017b). Together with the ETH Data Archive, it also offers solutions for the medium or long-term storage of digital information regardless of whether this information is a digital copy of originally analogue material or born digital (Sesartić & Töwe, 2016;Sesartić & Wullschleger, 2017). Both the Research Collection and the ETH Data Archive are managed by ETH Library, which also runs the official DOI registration office for Switzerland's universities and research facilities (ETH Library, 2017c). ...
Full-text available
ETH Zurich’s university collections and archives encompass around twenty facilities with unique holdings. Their diversity reflects the historic development of collections at the university and its modern potential for research and teaching. ETH Zurich makes its collections and archives available for research and teaching in a form that befits the digital age. To this end, it combines ETH Library’s skills in information science with the expertise of the collection owners in the departments in accordance with the Strategy 2015 to 2020, which was passed by the Executive Board in 2014. This paper presents the strategic approach of ETH Zurich’s Executive Board and focuses on the role of ETH Library in the current line of action.
Full-text available
Research as a digital enterprise has created new, often poorly addressed challenges for the management and curation of research to ensure continuity, transparency, and accountability. There is a common misunderstanding that curation can be considered at a later point in the research cycle or delegated or that it is too burdensome or too expensive due to a lack of efficient tools. This creates a curation gap between research practice and curation needs. We argue that this gap can be narrowed if curators provide attractive support that befits research needs and if researchers consistently manage their work according to generic concepts consistently from the beginning. A rather uniquely long-term case study demonstrates how such concepts have helped to pragmatically implement a research practice intentionally using only minimalist tools for sustained, self-contained archiving since 1989. The paper sketches the concepts underlying three core research activities. (i) handling of research data, (ii) reference management as part of scholarly publishing, and (iii) advancing theories through modelling and simulation. These concepts represent a universally transferable best research practice, while technical details are obviously prone to continuous change. We hope it stimulates researchers to manage research similarly and that curators gain a better understanding of the curation challenges research practice actually faces.
Archivmanagement: Ressourcen nutzen, Potentiale erkennen. Frühjahrstagung der Fachgruppe 8 im Verband deutscher Archivarinnen und Archivare e
  • C J Huber
C.J. Huber, "Digitale Langzeitarchivierung im Hochschularchiv der ETH Zürich -Eine Herausforderung für das Archivmanagement" in B. Rehse and Irina Schwab, eds., Archivmanagement: Ressourcen nutzen, Potentiale erkennen. Frühjahrstagung der Fachgruppe 8 im Verband deutscher Archivarinnen und Archivare e.V. (2015, Leipzig), pp. 44-52.