Baby Steps Towards A Library Graph

image It is one thing to have a vision, regular readers of this blog will know I have them all the time, its yet another to see it starting to form through the mist into a reality. Several times in the recent past I have spoken of the some of the building blocks for bibliographic data to play a prominent part in the Web of Data.  The Web of Data that is starting to take shape and drive benefits for everyone.  Benefits that for many are hiding in plain site on the results pages of search engines. In those informational panels with links to people’s parents, universities, and movies, or maps showing the location of mountains, and retail outlets; incongruously named Knowledge Graphs.

Building blocks such as Schema.org; Linked Data in WorldCat.org; moves to enhance Schema.org capabilities for bibliographic resource description; recognition that Linked Data has a beneficial place in library data and initiatives to turn that into a reality; the release of Work entity data mined from, and linked to, the huge WorldCat.org data set.

OK, you may say, we’ve heard all that before, so what is new now?

As always it is a couple of seemingly unconnected events that throw things into focus.

Event 1:  An article by David Weinberger in the DigitalShift section of Library Journal entitled Let The Future Go.  An excellent article telling libraries that they should not be so parochially focused in their own domain whilst looking to how they are going serve their users’ needs in the future.  Get our data out there, everywhere, so it can find its way to those users, wherever they are.  Making it accessible to all.  David references three main ways to provide this access:

  1. APIs – to allow systems to directly access our library system data and functionality
  2. Linked Datacan help us open up the future of libraries. By making clouds of linked data available, people can pull together data from across domains
  3. The Library Graph –  an ambitious project libraries could choose to undertake as a group that would jump-start the web presence of what libraries know: a library graph. A graph, such as Facebook’s Social Graph and Google’s Knowledge Graph, associates entities (“nodes”) with other entities

(I am fortunate to be a part of an organisation, OCLC, making significant progress on making all three of these a reality – the first one is already baked into the core of OCLC products and services)

It is the 3rd of those, however, that triggered recognition for me.  Personally, I believe that we should not be focusing on a specific ‘Library Graph’ but more on the ‘Library Corner of a Giant Global Graph’  – if graphs can have corners that is.  Libraries have rich specialised resources and have specific needs and processes that may need special attention to enable opening up of our data.  However, when opened up in context of a graph, it should be part of the same graph that we all navigate in search of information whoever and wherever we are.

Event 2: A posting by ZBW Labs Other editions of this work: An experiment with OCLC’s LOD work identifiers detailing experiments in using the OCLC WorldCat Works Data.

ZBW contributes to WorldCat, and has 1.2 million oclc numbers attached to it’s bibliographic records. So it seemed interesting, how many of these editions link to works and furthermore to other editions of the very same work.

The post is interesting from a couple of points of view.  Firstly the simple steps they took to get at the data, really well demonstrated by the command-line calls used to access the data – get OCLCNum data from WorldCat.or in JSON format – extract the schema:exampleOfWork link to the Work – get the Work data from WorldCat, also in JSON – parse out the links to other editions of the work and compare with their own data.  Command-line calls that were no doubt embedded in simple scripts.

Secondly, was the implicit way that the corpus of WorldCat Work entity descriptions, and their canonical identifying URIs, is used as an authoritative hub for Works and their editions.  A concept that is not new in the library world, we have been doing this sort of things with names and person identities via other authoritative hubs, such as VIAF, for ages.  What is new here is that it is a hub for Works and their relationships, and the bidirectional nature of those relationships – work to edition, edition to work – in the beginnings of a library graph linked to other hubs for subjects, people, etc.

The ZBW Labs experiment is interesting in its own way – simple approach enlightening results.  What is more interesting for me, is it demonstrates a baby step towards the way the Library corner of that Global Web of Data will not only naturally form (as we expose and share data in this way – linked entity descriptions), but naturally fit in to future library workflows with all sorts of consequential benefits.

The experiment is exactly the type of initiative that we hoped to stimulate by releasing the Works data.  Using it for things we never envisaged, delivering unexpected value to our community.  I can’t wait to hear about other initiatives like this that we can all learn from.

So who is going to be doing this kind of thing – describing entities and sharing them to establish these hubs (nodes) that will form the graph.  Some are already there, in the traditional authority file hubs: The Library of Congress LC Linked Data Service for authorities and vocabularies (id.loc.gov), VIAF, ISNI, FAST, Getty vocabularies, etc.

As previously mentioned Work is only the first of several entity descriptions that are being developed in OCLC for exposure and sharing.  When others, such as Person, Place, etc., emerge we will have a foundation of part of a library graph – a graph that can and will be used, and added to, across the library domain and then on into the rest of the Global Web of Data.  An important authoritative corner, of a corner, of the Giant Global Graph.

As I said at the start these are baby steps towards a vision that is forming out of the mist.  I hope you and others can see it too.

(Toddler image: Harumi Ueda)

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