Technology Evangelist at
Chair of Schema Bib Extend W3C Community Group
If you would like to meet up at an event contact him.
Since announcing the preview release of 194 Million Open Linked Data Bibliographic Work descriptions from OCLC’s WorldCat, last week at the excellent OCLC EMEA Regional Council event in Cape Town; my in-box and Twitter stream have been a little busy with questions about what the team at OCLC are doing.
Instead of keeping the answers within individual email threads, I thought they may be of interest to a wider audience:
Q I don’t see anything that describes the criteria for “workness.”
“Workness” definition is more the result of several interdependent algorithmic decision processes than a simple set of criteria. To a certain extent publishing the results as linked data was the easy (huh!) bit. The efforts to produce these definitions and their relationships are the ongoing results of a research process, by OCLC Research, that has been in motion for several years, to investigate and benefit from FRBR. You can find more detail behind this research here: http://www.oclc.org/research/activities/frbr.html?urlm=159763
Q Defining what a “work” is has proven next to impossible in the commercial world, how will this be more successful?
Very true for often commercial and/or political, reasons previous initiatives in this direction have not been very successful. OCLC make no broader claim to the definition of a WorldCat Work, other than it is the result of applying the results of the FRBR and associated algorithms, developed by OCLC Research, to the vast collection of bibliographic data contributed, maintained, and shared by the OCLC member libraries and partners.
Q Will there be links to individual ISBN/ISNI records?
Q Can you say more about how the stable identifiers will be managed as the grouping of records that create a work change?
You correctly identify the issue of maintaining identifiers as work groups split & merge. This is one of the tasks the development team are currently working on as they move towards full release of this data over the coming weeks. As I indicated in my blog post, there is a significant data refresh due and from that point onwards any changes will be handled correctly.
Q Is there a bulk download available?
No there is no bulk download available. This is a deliberate decision for several reasons.
Firstly this is Linked Data – its main benefits accrue from its canonical persistent identifiers and the relationships it maintains between other identified entities within a stable, yet changing, web of data. WorldCat.org is a live data set actively maintained and updated by the thousands of member libraries, data partners, and OCLC staff and processes. I would discourage reliance on local storage of this data, as it will rapidly evolve and become out of synchronisation with the source. The whole point and value of persistent identifiers, which you would reference locally, is that they will always dereference to the current version of the data.
Q Where should bugs be reported?
Today, you can either use the comment link from the Linked Data Explorer or report them to email@example.com. We will be building on this as we move towards full release.
Q There appears to be something funky with the way non-existent IDs are handled.
You have spotted a defect! – The result of access to a non established URI should be no triples returned with that URI as subject. How this is represented will differ between serialisations. Also you would expect to receive a http status of 404 returned.
Q It’s wonderful to see that the data is being licensed ODC-BY, but maybe assertions to that effect should be there in the data as well?.
The next release of data will be linked to a void document providing information, including licensing, for the dataset.
Q How might WorldCat Works intersect with the BIBFRAME model? – these work descriptions could be very useful as a bf:hasAuthority for a bf:Work.
The OCLC team monitor, participate in, and take account of many discussions – BIBFRAME, Schema.org, SchemaBibEx, WikiData, etc. – where there are some obvious synergies in objectives, and differences in approach and/or levels of detail for different audiences. The potential for interconnection of datasets using sameAs, and other authoritative relationships such as you describe is significant. As the WorldCat data matures and other datasets are published, one would expect initiatives from many in starting to interlink bibliographic resources from many sources.
Q Will your team be making use of ISTC?
Again it is still early for decisions in this area. However we would not expect to store the ISTC code as a property of Work. ISTC is one of many work based data sets, from national libraries and others, that it would be interesting to investigate processes for identifying sameAs relationships between.
The answer to the above question stimulated a follow-on question based upon the fact that ISTC Codes are allocated on a language basis. In FRBR terms language of publication is associated with the Expression, not the Work level description. As such therefore you would not expect to find ISTC on a ‘Work’ – My response to this was:
Note that the Works published from WorldCat.org are defined as instances of schema:CreativeWork.
What you say may well be correct for FRBR, but the the WorldCat data may not adhere strictly to the FRBR rules and levels. I say ‘may not’ as we are still working the modelling behind this and a language specific Work may become just an example of a more general Work – there again it may become more Expression-like. There is a balance to be struck between FRBR rules and a wider, non-library, understanding.
Q Which triplestore are you using?
We are not using a triplestore. Already, in this early stage of the journey to publish linked data about the resources within WorldCat, the descriptions of hundreds of millions of entities have been published. There is obvious potential for this to grow to many billions. The initial objective is to reliably publish this data in ways that it is easily consumed, linked to, and available in the de facto linked data serialisations. To achieve this we have put in place a simple very scalable, flexible infrastructure currently based upon Apache Tomcat serving up individual RDF descriptions stored in Apache HBase (built on top of Apache Hadoop HDFS). No doubt future use cases will emerge, which will build upon this basic yet very valuable publishing of data, that will require additional tools, techniques, and technologies to become part of that infrastructure over time. I know the development team are looking forward to the challenges that the quantity, variety, and always changing nature of data within WorldCat will provide for some of the traditional [for smaller data sets] answers to such needs.
As an aside, you may be interested to know that significant use is made of the map/reduce capabilities of Apache Hadoop in the processing of data extracted from bibliographic records, the identification of entities within that data, and the creation of the RDF descriptions. I think it is safe to say that the creation and publication of this data would not have been feasible without Hadoop being part of the OCLC architecture.
Hopefully this background will help those interested in the process. When we move from preview to a fuller release I expect to see associated documentation and background information appear.
I have just been sharing a platform, at the OCLC EMEA Regional Council Meeting in Cape Town South Africa, with my colleague Ted Fons. A great setting for a great couple of days of the OCLC EMEA membership and others sharing thoughts, practices, collaborative ideas and innovations.
Ted and I presented our continuing insight into The Power of Shared Data, and the evolving data strategy for the bibliographic data behind WorldCat. If you want to see a previous view of these themes you can check out some recordings we made late last year on YouTube, from Ted – The Power of Shared Data – and me – What the Web Wants.
Today, demonstrating on-going progress towards implementing the strategy, I had the pleasure to preview two upcoming significant announcements on the WorldCat data front:
A Work is a high-level description of a resource, containing information such as author, name, descriptions, subjects etc., common to all editions of the work. The description format is based upon some of the properties defined by the CreativeWork type from the Schema.org vocabulary. In the case of a WorldCat Work description, it also contains [Linked Data] links to individual, oclc numbered, editions already shared in WorldCat. Let’s take a look at one – try this: http://worldcat.org/entity/work/id/12477503
You will see, displayed in the new WorldCat Linked Data Explorer, a html view of the data describing ‘Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance’. Click on the ‘Open All’ button to view everything. Anyone used to viewing bibliographic data will see that this is a very different view of things. It is mostly URIs, the only visible strings being the name or description elements. This is not designed as an end-user interface, it is designed as a data exploration tool. This is highlighted by the links at the top to alternative RDF serialisations of the data – Turtle, N-Triple, JSON-LD, RDF/XML.
Why is this a preview? Can I usefully use the data now? Are a couple of obvious questions for you to ask at this time.
This is the first production release of WorldCat infrastructure delivering linked data. The first step in what will be an evolutionary, and revolutionary journey, to provide interconnected linked data views of the rich entities (works, people, organisations, concepts, places, events) captured in the vast shared collection of bibliographic records that makes up WorldCat. Mining those, 311+ million, records is not a simple task, even to just identify works. It takes time, and a significant amount of [Big Data] computing resources. One of the key steps in this process is to identify where they exist connections between works and authoritative data hubs, such as VIAF, FAST, LCSH, etc. In this preview release, it is some of those connections that are not yet in place.
What you see in their place at the moment is a link to, what can be described as, a local authority. These are exemplified by what the data geeks call a hash-URI as its identifier. http://experiment.worldcat.org/entity/work/data/12477503#Person/pirsig_robert for example is such an identifier, constructed from the work URI and the person name. Over the next few weeks, where the information is available, you would expect to see this link replaced by a connection to VIAF, such as this: http://viaf.org/viaf/78757182.
So, can I use the data? – Yes, the data is live, and most importantly the work URIs are persistent. It is also available under an open data license (ODC-BY).
How do I get a work id for my resources? – Today, there is one way. If you use the OCLC xISBN, xOCLCNum web services you will find as part of the data returned a work id (eg. owi=”owi12477503”). By striping off the ‘owi’ you can easily create the relevant work URI: http://worldcat.org/entity/work/id/12477503
In a very few weeks, once the next update to the WorldCat linked data has been processed, you will find that links to works will be embedded in the already published linked data. For example you will find the following in the data for OCLC number 53474380:
schema:exampleOfWork <a href="http://worldcat.org/entity/work/id/12477503">http://worldcat.org/entity/work/id/12477503</a>
What is next on the agenda? As described, within a few weeks, we expect to enhance the linking within the descriptions and provide links from the oclc numbered manifestations. From then on, both WorldCat and others will start to use WorldCat Work URIs, and their descriptions, as a core stable foundations to build out a web of relationships between entities in the library domain. It is that web of data that will stimulate the sharing of data and innovation in the design of applications and interfaces consuming the data over coming months and years.
As I said on the program today, we are looking for feedback on these releases.
We as a community are embarking on a new journey with shared, linked data at its heart. Its success will be based upon how that data is exposed, used, and the intrinsic quality of that data. Experience shows that a new view of data often exposes previously unseen issues, it is just that sort of feedback we are looking for. So any feedback on any aspect of this will be more than welcome.
I am excitedly looking forward to being able to comment further as this journey progresses.
Update: I have posted answers to some interesting questions raised by this release.
The Getty Research Institute has announced the release of the Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT)® as Linked Open Data. The data set is available for download at vocab.getty.edu under an Open Data Commons Attribution License (ODC BY 1.0).
The Art & Architecture Thesaurus is a reference of over 250,000 terms on art and architectural history, styles, and techniques. I’m sure this will become an indispensible authoritative hub of terms in the Web of Data to assist those describing their resources and placing them in context in that Web.
This is the fist step in an 18 month process to release four vocabularies – the others being The Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names (TGN)®, The Union List of Artist Names®, and The Cultural Objects Name Authority (CONA)®.
A great step from Getty. I look forward to the others appearing over the months and seeing how rapidly their use is made across the web.
Take the OCLC Control Number, often known as the OCN, for instance.
Every time an OCLC bibliographic record is created in WorldCat it is given a unique number from a sequential set – a process that has already taken place over a billion times. The individual number can be found represented in the record it is associated with. Over time these numbers have become a useful part of the processing of not only OCLC and its member libraries but, as a unique identifier proliferated across the library domain, by partners, publishers and many others.
Like anything that has been around for many years, assumptions and even myths have grown around the purpose and status of this little string of digits. Many stem from a period when there was concern, being voiced by several including me at the time, about the potentially over restrictive reuse policy for records created by OCLC and its member libraries. It became assumed by some, that the way to tell if a bibliographic record was an OCLC record was to see if it contained an OCN. The effect was that some people and organisations invested effort in creating processes to remove OCNs from their records. Processes that I believe, in a few cases, are still in place.
I signalled that OCLC were looking at this, in my session (Linked Data Progress), at IFLA in Singapore a few weeks ago. I am now pleased to say that the wording I was hinting at has now appeared on the relevant pages of the OCLC web site:
Use of the OCLC Control Number (OCN)
OCLC considers the OCLC Control Number (OCN) to be an important data element, separate from the rest of the data included in bibliographic records. The OCN identifies the record, but is not part of the record itself. It is used in a variety of human and machine-readable processes, both on its own and in subsequent manipulations of catalog data. OCLC makes no copyright claims in individual bibliographic elements nor does it make any intellectual property claims to the OCLC Control Number. Therefore, the OCN can be treated as if it is in the public domain and can be included in any data exposure mechanism or activity as public domain data. OCLC, in fact, encourages these uses as they provide the opportunity for libraries to make useful connections between different bibliographic systems and services, as well as to information in other domains.
The announcement of this confirmation/clarification of the status of OCNs was made yesterday by my colleague Jim Michalko on the Hanging Together blog.
When discussing this with a few people, one question often came up – Why just declare OCNs as public domain, why not license them as such? The following answer from the OCLC website, I believe explains why:
The OCN is an individual bibliographic element, and OCLC doesn’t make any copyright claims either way on specific data elements. The OCN can be used by other institutions in ways that, at an aggregate level, may have varying copyright assertions. Making a positive, specific claim that the OCN is in the public domain might interfere with the copyrights of others in those situations.
As I said, this is a little thing, but if it clears up some misunderstandings and consequential anomalies, it will contribute the usefulness of OCNs and ease the path towards a more open and shared data environment.
Content-negotiation has been implemented for the publication of Linked Data for WorldCat resources.
For those immersed in the publication and consumption of Linked Data, there is little more to say. However I suspect there are a significant number of folks reading this who are wondering what the heck I am going on about. It is a little bit techie but I will try to keep it as simple as possible.
Back last year, a linked data representation of each (of the 290+ million) WorldCat resources was embedded in it’s web page on the WorldCat site. For full details check out that announcement but in summary:
That is all still valid – so what’s new from now?
That same data is now available in several machine readable RDF serialisations. RDF is RDF, but dependant on your use it is easier to consume as RDFa, or XML, or JSON, or Turtle, or as triples.
In many Linked Data presentations, including some of mine, you will hear the line “As I clicked on the link a web browser we are seeing a html representation. However if I was a machine I would be getting XML or another format back.” This is the mechanism in the http protocol that makes that happen.
Let me take you through some simple steps to make this visible for those that are interested.
Starting with a resource in WorldCat: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/41266045. Clicking that link will take you to the page for Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban. As we did not indicate otherwise, the content-negotiation defaulted to returning the html web page.
To specify that we want RDF/XML we would specify http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/41266045.rdf (dependant on your browser this may not display anything, but allow you to download the result to view in your favourite editor)
This allows you to manually specify the serialisation format you require. You can also do it from within a program by specifying, to the http protocol, the format that you would accept from accessing the URI. This means that you do not have to write code to add the relevant suffix to each URI that you access. You can replicate the effect by using curl, a command line http client tool:
curl -L -H “Accept: application/rdf+xml” http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/41266045
curl -L -H “Accept: application/ld+json” http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/41266045
curl -L -H “Accept: text/turtle” http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/41266045
curl -L -H “Accept: text/plain” http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/41266045
So, how can I use it? However you like.
If you embed links to WorldCat resources in your linked data, the standard tools used to navigate around your data should now be able to automatically follow those links into and around WorldCat data. If you have the URI for a WorldCat resource, which you can create by prefixing an oclc number with ‘http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/’, you can use it in a program, browser plug-in, smartphone/facebook app to pull data back, in a format that you prefer, to work with or display.
Go have a play, I would love to hear how people use this.
Show me an example of the effective publishing of Linked Data – That, or a variation of it, must be the request I receive more than most when talking to those considering making their own resources available as Linked Data, either in their enterprise, or on the wider web.
There are some obvious candidates. The BBC for instance, makes significant use of Linked Data within its enterprise. They built their fantastic Olympics 2012 online coverage on an infrastructure with Linked Data at its core. Unfortunately, apart from a few exceptions such as Wildlife and Programmes, we only see the results in a powerful web presence. The published data is only visible within their enterprise.
Dbpedia is another excellent candidate. From about 2007 it has been a clear demonstration of Tim Berners-Lee’s principles of using URIs as identifiers and providing information, including links to other things, in RDF – it is just there at the end of the dbpedia URIs. But for some reason developers don’t seem to see it as a compelling example. Maybe it is influenced by the Wikipedia effect – interesting but built by open data geeks, so not to be taken seriously.
A third example, which I want to focus on here, is Ordnance Survey. Not generally known much beyond the geographical patch they cover, Ordnance Survey is the official mapping agency for Great Britain. Formally a government agency, they are best known for their incredibly detailed and accurate maps that are the standard accessory for anyone doing anything in the British countryside. A little less known is that they also publish information about post-code areas, parish/town/city/county boundaries, parliamentary constituency areas, and even European regions in Britain. As you can imagine, these all don’t neatly intersect, which makes the data about them a great case for a graph based data model and hence for publishing as Linked Data. Which is what they did a couple of years ago.
The reason I want to focus on their efforts now, is that they have recently beta released a new API suite, which I will come to in a moment. But first I must emphasise something that is often missed.
Linked Data is just there – without the need for an API the raw data (described in RDF) is ‘just there to consume’. With only standard [http] web protocols, you can get the data for an entity in their dataset by just doing a http GET request on the identifier. (eg. For my local village: http://data.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/id/7000000000002929). What you get back is some nicely formatted html for your web browser, and with content negotiation you can get the same thing as RDF/XML, JSON or turtle. As it is Linked Data, what you get back also includes links to to other data, enabling you to navigate your way around their data from entity to entity.
An excellent demonstration of the basic power and benefit of Linked Data. So why is this often missed? Maybe it is because there is nothing to learn, no API documentation required, you can see and use it by just entering a URI into your web browser – too simple to be interesting perhaps.
To get at the data in more interesting and complex ways you need the API set thoughtfully provided by those that understand the data and some of the most common uses for it, Ordnance Survey.
The API set, now in beta, in my opinion is a most excellent example of how to build, document, and provide access to Linked Data assets in this way.
Firstly the APIs are applied as a standard to four available data sets – three individual, and one combining all three data sets. Nice that you can work with an individually focussed set or get data from all in a consolidated graph.
There are four APIs:
Each API is available to play with on a web page complete with examples and pop-up help hints. It is very easy and quick to get your head around the capabilities of the individual APIs, the use of parameters, and returned formats without having to read documentation or cut a single line of code.
For a quick intro there is even a page with them all on for you to try. When you do get around to cutting code, the documentation for each API is also well presented in simple and understandable form. They even include details of the available output formats and expected http response codes.
Finally a few general comments.
Firstly the look, feel, and performance of the site reflects that this is a robust serious professional service and fills you with confidence about building your application on its APIs. Developers of services and APIs, even for internal use, often underestimate the value of presenting and documenting their offering in a professional way. How often have you come across API documentation that makes the first web page look modern and wonder about investing the time in even looking at it. Also a site with a snappy response ups your confidence that your application will perform well when using their service.
Secondly the range of APIs, all cleanly and individually satisfying specific general needs. So for instance you can usefully use Search and Lookup without having any understanding of RDF or SPARQL – the power of SPARQL being there only if you understand and need it.
The additional features – CORS Support and Response Caching – (detailed on the API documentation pages) also demonstrate that this service has been built with the issues of the data consumer in mind. Providing the tools for consumers to take advantage of web caching in their application will greatly enhance response and performance. The CORS Support enables the creation of in browser applications that draw data from many sites – one of the oft promoted benefits of linked data, but sometimes a little tricky to implement ‘in browser’.
I can see this site and its associated APIs greatly enhancing the reputation of Ordnance Survey; underpinning the development of many apps and applications; and becoming an ideal source for many people to go ‘to try out’, when writing their first API consuming application code.
Well done to the team behind its production.
Help spotlight library innovation and send a library linked data practitioner to the SemTechBiz conference in San Francisco, June 2-5
Update from organisers:
We are pleased to announce that Kevin Ford, from the Network Development and MARC Standards Office at the Library of Congress, was selected for the Semantic Web.com Spotlight on Innovation for his work with the Bibliographic Framework Initiative (BIBFRAME) and his continuing work on the Library of Congress’s Linked Data Service (loc.id). In addition to being an active contributor, Kevin is responsible for the BIBFRAME website; has devised tools to view MARC records and the resulting BIBFRAME resources side-by-side; authored the first transformation code for MARC data to BIBFRAME resources; and is project manager for The Library of Congress’ Linked Data Service. Kevin also writes and presents frequently to promote BIBFRAME, ID.LOC.GOV, and educate fellow librarians on the possibilities of linked data.
Without exception, each nominee represented great work and demonstrated the power of Linked Data in library systems, making it a difficult task for the committee, and sparking some interesting discussions about future such spotlight programs.
Congratulations, Kevin, and thanks to all the other great library linked data projects nominated!
OCLC and LITA are working to promote library participation at the upcoming Semantic Technology & Business Conference (SemTechBiz). Libraries are doing important work with Linked Data. SemanticWeb.com wants to spotlight innovation in libraries, and send one library presenter to the SemTechBiz conference expenses paid.
SemTechBiz brings together today’s industry thought leaders and practitioners to explore the challenges and opportunities jointly impacting both business leaders and technologists. Conference sessions include technical talks and case studies that highlight semantic technology applications in action. The program includes tutorials and over 130 sessions and demonstrations as well as a hackathon, start-up competition, exhibit floor, and networking opportunities. Amongst the great selection of speakers you will find yours truly!
If you know of someone who has done great work demonstrating the benefit of linked data for libraries, nominate them for this June 2-5 conference in San Francisco. This “library spotlight” opportunity will provide one sponsored presenter with a spot on the conference program, paid travel & lodging costs to get to the conference, plus a full conference pass.
Nominations for the Spotlight are being accepted through May 10th. Any significant practical work should have been accomplished prior to March 31st 2013 — project can be ongoing. Self-nominations will be accepted
Even if you do not nominate anyone, the Semantic Technology and Business Conference is well worth experiencing. As supporters of the SemanticWeb.com Library Spotlight OCLC and LITA members will get a 50% discount on a conference pass – use discount code “OCLC” or “LITA” when registering. (Non members can still get a 20% discount for this great conference by quoting code “FCLC”)
For more details checkout the OCLC Innovation Series page.
Thank you for all the nominations we received for the first Semantic Web.com Spotlight on Innovation in Libraries.
As is often the way, you start a post without realising that it is part of a series of posts – as with the first in this series. That one – Entification, the following one – Hubs of Authority and this, together map out a journey that I believe the library community is undertaking as it evolves from a record based system of cataloguing items towards embracing distributed open linked data principles to connect users with the resources they seek. Although grounded in much of the theory and practice I promote and engage with, in my role as Technology Evangelist with OCLC and Chairing the Schema Bib Extend W3C Community Group, the views and predictions are mine and should not be extrapolated to predict either future OCLC product/services or recommendations from the W3C Group.
As I indicated in the first of this series, there are descriptions of a broader collection of entities, than just books, articles and other creative works, locked up in the Marc and other records that populate our current library systems. By mining those records it is possible to identify those entities, such as people, places, organisations, formats and locations, and model & describe them independently of their source records.
As I discussed in the post that followed, the library domain has often led in the creation and sharing of authoritative datasets for the description of many of these entity types. Bringing these two together, using URIs published by the Hubs of Authority, to identify individual relationships within bibliographic metadata published as RDF by individual library collections (for example the British National Bibliography, and WorldCat) is creating Library Linked Data openly available on the Web.
Why do we catalogue? is a question, I often ask, with an obvious answer – so that people can find our stuff. How does this entification, sharing of authorities, and creation of a web of library linked data help us in that goal. In simple terms, the more libraries can understand what resources each other hold, describe, and reference, the more able they are to guide people to those resources. Sounds like a great benefit and mission statement for libraries of the world but unfortunately not one that will nudge the needle on making library resources more discoverable for the vast majority of those that can benefit from them.
I have lost count of the number of presentations and reports I have seen telling us that upwards of 80% of visitors to library search interfaces start in Google. A similar weight of opinion can be found that complains how bad Google, and the other search engines, are at representing library resources. You will get some balancing opinion, supporting how good Google Book Search and Google Scholar are at directing students and others to our resources. Yet I am willing to bet that again we have another 80-20 equation or worse about how few, of the users that libraries want to reach, even know those specialist Google services exist. A bit of a sorry state of affairs when the major source of searching for our target audience, is also acknowledged to be one of the least capable at describing and linking to the resources we want them to find!
Library linked data helps solve both the problem of better description and findability of library resources in the major search engines. Plus it can help with the problem of identifying where a user can gain access to that resource to loan, download, view via a suitable license, or purchase, etc.
Before a search engine can lead a user to a suitable resource, it needs to identify that the resource exists, in any form, and hold a description for display in search results that will be sufficiently inform a user as such. Library search interfaces are inherently poor sources of such information, with web crawlers having to infer, from often difficult to differentiate text, what the page might be about. This is not a problem isolated to library interfaces. In response, the major search engines have cooperated to introduce a generic vocabulary for embedded structured information in to web pages so that they can be informed in detail what the page references. This vocabulary is Schema.org – I have previously posted about its success and significance.
With a few enhancements in the way it can describe bibliographic resources (currently being discussed by the Schema Bib Extend W3C Community Group) Schema.org is an ideal way for libraries to publish information about our resources and associated entities in a format the search engines can consume and understand. By using URIs for authorities in that data to identify, the author in question for instance using his/her VIAF identifier, gives them the ability to identify resources from many libraries associated by the same person. With this greatly enriched, more structured, linked to authoritative hubs, view of library resources, the likes of Google over time will stand a far better chance of presenting potential library users with useful informative results. I am pleased to say that OCLC have been at the forefront of demonstrating this approach by publishing Schema.org modelled linked data in the default WorldCat.org interface.
For this approach to be most effective, many of the major libraries, consortia, etc. will need to publish metadata as linked data, in a form that the search engines can consume whilst (following linked data principles) linking to each other when they identify that they are describing the same resource. Many instances of [in data terms] the same thing being published on the web will naturally raise its visibility in results listings.
An individual site (even a WorldCat) has difficultly in being identified above the noise of retail and other sites. We are aware of the Page Rank algorithms used by the search engines to identify and boost the reputation of individual sites and pages by the numbers of links between them. If not an identical process, it is clear that similar rules will apply for structured data linking. If twenty sites publish their own linked data about the same thing, the search engines will take note of each of them. If each of those sites assert that their resource is the same resource as a few of their partner sites (building a web of connection between instances of the same thing), I expect that the engines will take exponentially more notice.
Page ranking does not depend on all pages having to link to all others. Like many things on the web, hubs of authority and aggregation will naturally emerge with major libraries, local, national, and global consortia doing most of the inter-linking, providing interdependent hubs of reputation for others to connect with.
Having identified a resource that may satisfy a potential library user’s need, the next even more difficult problem is to direct that user to somewhere that they can gain access to it – loan, download, view via an appropriate licence, or purchase, etc.
WorldCat.org, and other hubs, with linked data enhanced to provide holdings information, may well provide a target to link via which a user may access to, in addition to just getting a description of, a resource. However, those few sites, no matter how big or well recognised they are, are just a few sites shouting in the wilderness of the ever increasing web. Any librarian in any individual library can quite rightly ask how to help Google, and the others, to point users at the most appropriate copy in his/her library.
We have all experienced the scenario of searching for a car rental company, to receive a link to one within walking distance as first result – or finding the on-campus branch at the top of a list of results.in response to a search for banks. We know the search engines are good at location, either geographical or interest, based searching so why can they not do it for library resources. To achieve this a library needs to become an integral part of a Web of Library Data, publishing structured linked data about the resources they have available for the search engines to find; in that data linking their resources to the reputable hubs of bibliographic that will emerge, so the engines know it is another reference to the same thing; go beyond basic bibliographic description to encompass structured data used by the commercial world to identify availability.
So who is going to do all this then – will every library need to employ a linked data expert? I certainly hope not.
One would expect the leaders in this field, national libraries, OCLC, consortia etc to continue to lead the way, in the process establishing the core of this library web of data – the hubs. Building on that framework the rest of the web can be established with the help of the products, and services of service providers and system suppliers. Those concerned about these things should already be starting to think about how they can be helped not only to publish linked data in a form that the search engines can consume, but also how their resources can become linked via those hubs to the wider web.
By lighting a linked data beacon on top of their web presence, a library will announce to the world the availability of their resources. One beacon is not enough. A web of beacons (the web of library data) will alert the search engines to the mass of those resources in all libraries, then they can lead users via that web to the appropriately located individual resource in particular.
This won’t happen over night, but we are certainly in for some interesting times ahead.
Beacons picture from wallpapersfor.me