Richard Wallis Joins OCLC

200px-OCLC_logo.svg You may have noticed this press release Richard Wallis joins OCLC staff as Technology Evangelist today from OCLC.

I have already had some feedback on this move from several people, who almost without exception, have told me that they think it is good move for both OCLC and myself. Which is good, as I agree with them 😉

I have also had several questions about it, mostly beginning with the words why or what.  My answers I thought I would share here to give some background.

Why a library organisation? – I thought you were trying to move away from libraries.
I have been associated with the library sector since joining BLCMP in 1990 to help them build a new library management system which they christened Talis.  As Talis, the company named after the library system, evolved and started to look at new Web influenced technologies to open up possibilities for managing and publishing library data, they and I naturally gravitated towards Semantic Web technologies and their pragmatic use in a way that became known as Linked Data.

Even though the Talis Group transferred their library division to Capita last year, that natural connection between library data and linked data principles meant that the association remained for me, despite having no direct connection with the development of the systems to run libraries.  Obvious examples of this were the Linked Data and Libraries events I ran in London with Talis and the work with the British Library to model and publish the British National Bibliography.  So even if I wanted to get away from libraries I believe it would be a fruitless quest, I think I am stuck with them!

Why OCLC? – Didn’t you spend a lot of time criticising them.
I can own up to several blog posts a few years back where I either criticised them for not being as open as I thought they could be, or questioning their business model at the time.  However I have always respected their mission to promote libraries and their evolution.   In my time chairing and hosting the Library 2.0 Gang, and in individual podcasts, I hope that I demonstrated a fairness that I always aspire towards, whilst not shying away from the difficult questions.   I have watched OCLC, and the library community they are part of, evolve over many years towards a position and vision that encompasses many of the information sharing principles and ambitions I hold.   In the very short amount of time I have already spent talking with my new colleagues it is clear that they are motivated towards making best use of data for the benefit of their members, libraries in general, and the people they serve – which is all of us.

Oh and yes, they have a great deal of data which has huge potential on the Linked Data Web and it will be great to be a part of realising at least some of that potential.

What about Data Liberate? – Are you going to continue with that.
I set up Data Liberate with a dual purpose.  Firstly, to promote myself as a consultant to help people and organisations realise the value in their data.  Secondly, to provide a forum and focus for sharing commenting upon, and discussing issues, ideas, events, and initiatives relevant to Open, Linked, Enterprise, and Big data.  Obviously the first of these is now not relevant, but I do intend to maintain Data Liberate to fulfil that second purpose.  I may not be posting quite as often, but I do intend to highlight and comment upon things of relevance in the broad landscape of data issues, regardless of if they are library focussed or not.

What are you going to be doing at OCLC?
My title is Technology Evangelist, and there is a great deal of evangelism needed – promoting, explaining, and demystifying the benefits of Linked Data to libraries and librarians.  This stuff is very new to a large proportion of the library sector, and not unsurprisingly there is some scepticism about it.  It would be easy to view announcements from organisations such as the British Library, Library of Congress, Europeana, Stanford University, OCLC, and many many more, as a general acceptance of a Linked Data library vision.  Far from it.  I am certain that a large proportion of librarians are not aware of the potential benefits of Linked Data for their world, or even why they should be aware.   So you will find me on stage at an increasing number of OCLC and wider library sector events, doing my bit to spread the word.

Like all technologies and techniques, Linked Data does not sit in isolation and there is obvious connections with the OCLC WorldShare Platform which is providing shared web based services for managing libraries and their data.  I will also be applying some time evangelising the benefits of this approach.

Aside from evangelising I will be working with people.  Working with the teams within OCLC as they coordinate and consolidate their approach to applying Linked Data principles across the organisation.  Working with them as they evolve the way OCLC will publish data to libraries and the wider world.  Working with libraries to gain their feedback.  Working with the Linked Data and Semantic Web community to gain feedback as to the way to publish that data in a way that not only serves the library community, but also to all across the emerging Web of Data.  So you will continue to find me on stage at events such as the Semantic Tech and Business Conference, doing my bit to spread the word, as well as engaging directly with the community.

Why libraries? – Aren’t they a bit of a Linked Data niche.
I believe that there are two basic sorts of data being published on the [Linked Data] web – backbone data and the non-backbone data the value of which is greatly increased by linking to the backbone.

By backbone data I mean things like: Dbpeadia with it’s identifier for most every ‘thing’; government data with authoritative identifiers for laws, departments, schools, etc.; mapping organisations, such as Ordnance Survey with authoritative identifiers for post codes etc.  By linking your dataset’s concepts to these backbone sources, you immediately increase its usefulness and ability to link and merge with other data linked in the same way.  I believe that the descriptions of our heritage and achievements both scientific and artistic, held by organisations such as our national, academic, and public libraries is a massive resource that has the opportunity to form a very significant vertebrae on that backbone.

Hopefully some of the above will help in the understanding of the background and motivations behind this new and exciting phase of my career.  These opinions and ambitions for the evolution of data on the web, and in the enterprise, are all obviously mine, so do not read in to them any future policy decisions or directions for my new employer.  Suffice to say I will not be leaving them at the door. Neither will I cast off my approach to pragmatically solving problems in the real world by evolving towards a solution recognising that the definition of the ideal changes over time and with circumstance.

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