The topic for my second-last metadata class was linked data, and I’ll be honest: I went into it a little confused. But I lucked out in two ways. First, I wasn’t the only one who was confused. Second, my professor wisely chose to let Tim Berners-Lee explain the ingenious simplicity of the concept of linked data, and why it’s so important. And he explains it better than I ever could, so in case you haven’t heard this TED Talk, check it out here:
Okay, Tim. Thanks for breaking it down for us. I’ll take it from here.
So, what does this have to do with libraries? The answer is: just about everything. As much as I love to read (so predictable, I know), I’ve known for a while that librarianship isn’t about books so much as it’s about facilitating the flow of information and, in turn, knowledge production. And neither of those things can happen if the major information retrieval mechanisms on the Internet don’t communicate with each other.
But as librarians know, lack of communication isn’t just something that can affect digital “heavy hitters.” It can happen even within library catalogs, and at the end user’s expense. Van Ballegooie and Borie (2014) acknowledge this problem and explain why it happens:
Under current cataloging rules, each time the title or main entry of a serial changes significantly, catalogers are required to create a new bibliographic record…In many library catalogs, there are both current and legacy records reflecting differing rules for title changes. These inconsistencies in practice can only make the discovery process more frustrating for the end user. (p. 77)
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Fons, Penka, and Wallis (2012) describe a project which, looking back, I really should have known about already: OCLC’s Linked Data Initiative. Most people know (and love) WorldCat, but it’s Schema.org – which “represents a cooperative agreement between…major search engines to share a core vocabulary for markup” (p. 29) – that’s really taking it to the next level. OCLC’s linked data created a library extension to the Schema.org base vocabulary, applied linked data decoration to WorldCat’s bibliographic content, and finally updated and displayed data-decorated records on the site. The result is a beauty (and thus deserves a beautiful book to show as an example – February by Lisa Moore. All images are from http://www.worldcat.org/title/february/oclc/426814439&referer=brief_results):
So, now you think: Okay, but about with serials? Aren’t they kind of a hopeless cause compared to books in a worldwide catalog? Not necessarily. The Resource Description Framework (RDF) has promising applications for individual library catalogs, including those pesky, easily changeable serials. As van Ballegooie and Borie (2014) explain:
RDF is not a particular data format; it is a conceptual framework for representing information about resources on the Web…Each RDF statement has three components – a subject, a predicate and an object…each part of the RDF triple is substituted by a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI). By using URIs as names for things for things, this allows computers to assign values automatically to each part of the RDF statement. (pp. 80-81)
This, in turn, allows computers to determine relationships in ways that MARC records, as they are now, just can’t do for serials. Or, to put it more elegantly:
Linked data can help bridge the journal/article divide that is so confusing to users. If relationships between serial works and article works were defined as linked data, this would enable discovery systems to provide more integrated and seamless discovery environments where users can easily navigate between the journals and the articles contained within them. (van Ballegooie and Borie, 2014: p. 82)
It may sound fancy, but really, it just makes so much sense!
It’s hard to know exactly what the future of the library catalog looks like, but the establishment of relationships among resources, and at various levels (especially where serials are concerned), is going to be crucial if we want to ensure a seamless user experience. And at the end of the day, even if we’re not in the cataloguing or metadata departments, that’s what all of our jobs, as librarians, are about.
Fons, T., Penka, J., & Wallis, R. (2012). OCLC’s linked data initiative: Using Schema.org to make library data relevant on the Web. Information Standards Quarterly, 24(2/3), 29-33.
Van Ballegooie, M., & Borie, J. (2014). From record-bound to boundless: FRBR, linked data, and new possibilities for serials cataloging. The Serials Librarian, 66(1), 76-87.
WorldCat.org. (2015). February (Book, 2009). Retrieved from http://www.worldcat.org/title/february/oclc/426814439&referer=brief_results.