What the Asterisk is Linked Data and What’s that Got to do with Libraries

My fellow book nerds, I pause my regularly scheduled reviews, to contemplate some work-related things. I work in a library so, it’s still totally relevant. Below is an altered more profane (and hilarious)* form of a blog post I did for work.

April 10-16 is National Library Week and the theme this year is Libraries Transform. So, I wrote about linked data and BIBFRAME — aka bringing libraries into the 21st century, FINALLY.

What’s Google Got to Do with It?:  Linked Data Transforms Library Catalog Searching

So, what is linked data? Tim Berners-Lee (July 2006), wrote an article for W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) where he outlined the concept of Linked Data. He listed four principles. 1. Use URIs as names for things. 2. Use HTTP URIs so people can look up those names for things. 3. When someone looks up a URI provide useful information using the standards RDF and SPARQL. 4. Include links to other URIs so people can discover more things (probably the most important principle for library data).

Okay, okay, so what does that mean? Well, currently most of the internet is made up of hypertext links that allow people to move from one document to another document, but with Linked Data, there are hyperdata links that allow people and machines to find data that is related to other data that was not previously linked. Basically, rather than people creating these little desert-island documents on the web, everything can become interconnected. Who knows how data can be used after it is all interconnected in this way, but as Berners-Lee says, “It is the unexpected re-use of information which is the value added by the web.”

What does that mean for libraries?

Enter BIBFRAME.

bibframe

BIBFRAME model

What exactly is BIBFRAME? Let’s try to simplify. BIBFRAME is a model for bibliographic information that allows libraries to become part of the World Wide Web internet (World Wide Web sounds so nineties to me).

In BIBFRAME, words (search terms) are tied together by relationships. It’s like searching for information the way human brains think. Read: a convoluted mess of interconnections and relationships, and a lot of “oh look, squirrel!” moments. For example, maybe I want to find items about Felicia Day (because I lurve her). Searching for “Felicia Day” in the library catalog will lead me to a plethora of items like books, journal articles, or films maybe her new book, and in times past, this would probably be the end of my search.

I totally tried searching for Felicia Day at work, and nothing came up. Sad face. I do work for an academic library though, so maybe I would have had better luck with the public library. Also, in my work blog, I used “Civil War” as my search terms example. Boring! (Sorry if you’re super into the Civil War.)

Now, with BIBFRAME, the items that pop up for “Felicia Day” will contain links to other terms that are related to Felicia – dates, people, places, etc., but also information on the publisher, where the item was published, and other items available in that same format. Perhaps you’re thinking that this is already available in a catalog record, through Subject Headings. You would be mostly correct, except BIBFRAME facilitates searching that is more akin to the random internet hopping we all end up doing when we start with a simple Google search.

Perhaps I start with a “Felicia Day” query, but end up looking at every. single. web show. involving. video. games. ever. Or, maybe I end up looking at comic books featuring female heroes. Or, I may end up looking at cat videos. Let’s be honest, that happens. The possibilities are endless! Also, BIBFRAME links library holdings up with the rest of the freaking internet. I mean, come on, it’s about time that happened AMIRIGHT!?!? That’s really the kicker here. Now libraries get to play in the same sand box as the rest of the internet. Can you tell I’m excited about this yet? Maybe this will help:

dean excited

BIBFRAME sort of Google-ifies library catalog records (not technically, but I wanted to say Google-ify) so that, when people query search engines, those search engines can pick up on the available library data. Meaning, if you searched Google for “Felicia Day The Guild”, it would not only pull up all of the images, videos, websites, and blog posts associated with those keywords, it would also pull up holdings in local libraries. If my local library had The Guild comic, I’d be like:

charlie is this real life

So, if you really wanted Felicia Day’s new book or The Guild comic, but you didn’t want to buy either of them from Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Google Play or wherever, you wouldn’t have to do an additional search in the library catalog. Google (or another search engine, but only monsters use other search engines) would automatically search the library catalog for you (because the library catalogers made that data available to the interwebs through BIBFRAME). 😀

Let’s see what the Library of Congress says about BIBFRAME (so we can be academic and such):

When users begin their information hunt with a search engine or social network, whose objective is to help users locate information, then cultural heritage organizations need to help those engines and networks direct users to answers, especially those held by libraries. The BIBFRAME model is intentionally designed to coordinate the cataloging and metadata that libraries create with these efforts, and connect with them. In short, the BIBFRAME model is the library community’s formal entry point for becoming part of a much larger web of data.

So how exactly does that transform library searching?

I can only speculate at this point, but I believe by incorporating library data into the larger web of data, libraries will finally accomplish what we’ve been striving for since the advent of search engines. Namely, we will remain relevant and at the forefront of information querying. Most people do not begin Two people in the known universe begin information searches at the library. Normal people Google. Google is a noun, a verb, and a way of life for many of us. So by allowing search engines, like Google, to have access to library data, we bring that data directly to the people. You know, those pretty pretty people we want to actually darken our doors! Finally, modern day information seekers will be able to Google their way to library holdings. Not only that, but the catalog records we house will themselves be little universes of information, with links to objects related to the original query terms. As I said before, the possibilities here, are endless.

The Road Ahead

BIBFRAME, as I mentioned, is an initiative. It has not yet been implemented in the library-verse at large. BIBFRAME will serve as a replacement for MARC, the standards for bibliographic description that has been around since the 1960s. Per usual, this has caused some dissension in the ranks of catalogers. The biggest question seems to be, if this is a new format, why is BIBFRAME concentrating so much on mapping MARC fields? And, if we concede that we need to implement BIBFRAME, when should we move to BIBFRAME?

The Library of Congress provides answers to these and other frequently asked questions at their FAQ page. The answers to the above questions are: We’re talking about mapping so we don’t have to waste tons of records already in existence — they’re totes different formats…BIBFRAME is still in the discussion and development stage. After it reaches adolescence, vendors and suppliers will need time to adjust to it, and after that there will still likely be a mix of MARC and BIBFRAME for a while (you know, because nobody likes change).

So, as in all things technical, we still have a ways to go, but BIBFRAME will be a very big next step in library metadata, and it will certainly transform the way people use library catalogs.

Further Reading and Additional Information:

I leave you with some gifs of my favorite über-nerd, Charlie/Felicia Day:

charlie its good to be queen

charlie peace out bitches

*The author realizes that humor is subjective and she probably finds herself far more hilarious than anyone else ever will.

**If I missed something/got something wrong/etc. feel free to rip me to shreds in the comments. Peace!

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