July 14 2011
British Library, London
Building on a similar but smaller event last year which I didn’t attend, this attracted about 120 delegates, including a number from Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. (It would have been good to have had a list of delegates as I’m sure there were people known to me by name but not by sight). I think that most were from libraries rather than IT departments, and from the academic sector.
After a brief keynote address by Dame Lynne Brindley from the British Library, Richard Wallis of Talis talked about how the use of Linked Data is spreading and why libraries are a natural place to use it: essentially because they are long practised at adhering to standards and at describing their holdings. Adrian Stevenson of UKOLN reported on a LOD-LAM summit which dealt with such matters as vocabularies and provenance of metadata (which were recurring themes). Phil John of Capita introduced Prism, which has been developed for discovering library resources at the University of Winchester.
Among the most interesting talks were the ‘lightning talks’ which preceded and followed lunch, and which were focussed on practical issues with Linked Data. Carsten Kessler described how the University of Münster links information on courses, buildings, research databases and bus routes! Jerry Persons from Stanford offered a report on a recent Linked Data workshop there which raised another recurrent theme: the tension between getting data/metadata exactly right and getting a working service up and running. He leant towards the second of these, saying ‘scruffy works’ and ‘build for the way the world is’.
Antoine Isaac described the work of the W3C Library Linked Data Group on standards relating to Linked Data. Neil Wilson of the British Library talked about the linked data version of the British National Bibliography, and in particular the process of converting MARC records to RDF. The final talk, provocatively entitled ‘The Record is Dead’, was by Rob Styles of Talis, who explained how traditional cataloguing methods fail to match the way people talk and think, and lose valuable detail. ‘Records don’t have relationships’. While this was less technically focussed than some of the other talks, it pointed the way to possible uses for Linked Data and was an appropriate lead into the closing summary from Richard Wallis.
Overall, I felt that the day gave a useful view of the current state of play with regard to the use of Linked Data in the library world. Phil John made the point that traditional OPACs don’t deal well with special collections, an observation relevant to some of ILRT’s current work. I also learnt about how librarians talk when they’re together (there were several MARC-related jokes that went over my head!) I was however left with the impression that while everyone present agreed that Linked Data was a good thing, we are all still feeling around for ways to use it.