I’ve been talking about linked data for so long that I can’t remember when I first began. I was actually a skeptic at first, as I was struggling to see the benefit from all the work required to move our data from where it is now into that brave new world.
But then I started to understand what a transformational change we were contemplating, and the many benefits that could accrue. Let me spell it out for you.
MARC, our foundational metadata standard, is fundamentally built for description. As a library cataloger, you have an object in hand, and your task is to describe that item to the best of your abilities so that a library user can distinguish it from other, similar items. Sure, your task is also to assign some subject headings so it can be discovered by a subject search, but the essential bit is to describe the thing with enough specificity so that someone else (perhaps another cataloger) can determine whether the item they hold in their hand is the same thing.
I humbly submit that this has been the mission of cataloging for the last X number of decades. And now, I also submit, we are about to turn the tables. Rather than focusing our efforts on description, we will be focusing more of our efforts on discovery. What does this mean?
It means lashing up our assertions about an item (e.g., this person wrote this work) with canonical identifiers that can be resolved and can lead to additional information about that assertion. This of course assumes the web as the foundational infrastructure that makes linked data possible.
But it’s also more than this. It is also about using linked data techniques to associate related works. Using the concepts laid out by the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) to bring together all of the various manifestations of a work. This can support interfaces that make it easier to navigate search results and find the version of a work that you need. Linked data techniques are also making it easier for us to link translations to the original works and vice versa.
All of these advancements are making discovery easier and more effective, which is really what we should be all about, don’t you think?
Roy Tennant works on projects related to improving the technological infrastructure of libraries, museums, and archives.