As part of the OCLC Research Discussion Series on Next Generation Metadata, this blog post reports back from the French language round table discussion held on March 3, 2021. (A French translation of this post is available here)
Attendees – with backgrounds in bibliographic control, cataloging services, research information management (RIM), archival and heritage collections – joined the session from France, Belgium, Germany, and Italy and together, they formed a very heterogeneous group.
The mapping exercise
As in all the other round table discussions, participants started with taking stock of next generation metadata projects in their region. The resulting map reflected well what was top of mind in the group.
It pointed to the French National Entity File (NEF), the flagship project of the National Bibliographic Transition Program, jointly led by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), and the Bibliographic Agency for Higher Education (Agence bibliographique de l’enseignement supérieur, Abes). A cluster of projects belonging to the same program populated the left-upper quadrant of the map. An interesting cluster of post-it notes appeared around the center of the map, all relating to persistent identifiers, demonstrating the importance attributed to them, and reflecting their application area (bibliographic data; research information management (RIM) data and scholarly communications; cultural heritage data). Relatively few projects were featured in the RIM or heritage quadrants.
Opportunity for cross-pollination
The group exchanged information about the main projects featured in the different quadrants of the map. One participant explained how the two main bibliographic agencies in France, BnF and Abes, were enticed to collaborate because of the harder delineation between metadata production and use workflows. This is due to the French open government data policy, which promotes the publication and reuse of public data. As a result, the two agencies decided to bring their data together and to co-produce bibliographic data in the future, in order to maximize the benefits of centralization, normalization, and efficiency at production and publication time. The NEF is the central base in which both organizations will co-create entities and it is considered the first implementation at scale of the IFLA Library Reference Model. Other French libraries and archives will, in time, be able to contribute to this knowledge base, so that it will truly become a national endeavor.
Another participant clarified the status of the French RIM landscape, and described two infrastructural initiatives that collect metadata for monitoring and evaluating scientific research:
- CapLab, a cloud system deployed by Amue (shared-services agency for universities and other higher education and research Institutions in France) to evaluate research projects.
- HALliance, a large investment project run by the CCSD (The Center for Direct Scientific Communication) to develop the next generation of the Archive Ouverte HAL, with a centralized approach to analytics and research evaluation.
There seemed to be little cross-pollination between the national RIM data initiatives and the bibliographic data ones in France, and it was observed that bridging that gap could trigger new opportunities. euroCRIS, the international organization for research information – which also maintains the CERIF data model – brings different stakeholders together from the RIM community and might be an avenue for further collaborative explorations. And that was of course exactly what this session was aiming for: to share, connect, and strengthen.
Transcending the institutional level
The landscape in Belgium was described as very different from the French one, even if the goal to open-up collections on the Web of Data is the same. There is less centralization, and national institutions – such as the State Archives or the Royal Library – have tended to follow their own traditional authority work. However, it was also noted that the Royal Library has taken up the role of ISNI-registration agency for authors in Belgium and has plans to publish a national authority file for author names with their ISNI, VIAF, and other identifiers. This effort will be furthermore extended in collaboration with other libraries in Belgium.
The problems to move to the next level of metadata management for individual academic libraries were described as challenging for various reasons. Firstly, there is a need for harmonizing name authorities for authors across different systems, such as the institutional repository, the catalog, and the digital library collections. However, setting up a local centralized authority file brings its own synchronization problems. And then there is the difficulty of choosing from the many different existing author identifiers and deciding which ones are relevant to your collections. A convenient and attractive way to overcome these issues is to hook up to one of the large international authority files, such as the Library of Congress Name Authority File (NAF) – which are being enriched with all relevant identifiers and automatically updated.
The challenge of managing different scales
From the French perspective, managing next generation metadata at the national scale makes sense for several reasons. Firstly, because of the need to uphold French bibliographic principles and missions. More specifically, BnF and Abes are attached to the distinction between the “work” and the “expression”. This distinction is less clear in the Anglo-Saxon bibliographic tradition. Also, in the large international knowledge bases, the definitions of concepts around identities of persons (e.g., “public identity”) are still in flux. Secondly, in France, the management of authorities is state-of-the-art. The links between authorities and bibliographic records are not based on character strings, but on identifiers. The transition to the paradigm of interconnected entities is therefore relatively easy to make. Members of the group made it clear that investing in a bibliographic infrastructure on a national scale did not mean the data was walled in. On the contrary, the data will be interoperable, accessible, and reusable internationally. This is what international standards are for. At the end of the day, the national scale is the best one to start from, because – in the words of one of the participants –:
“The global can only be fed by the local, in terms of culture, in terms of consolidation of the entity (…) we have the responsibility, the knowledge, and the know-how at the local level about the entities that are French authors (…) we are best qualified to identify at the local level”.
In the RIM area, the national scale is unavoidable for French historical and cultural reasons as well. However, because of the nature of scientific research, two other scales were described as equally important: the European and the disciplinary community scale. The first is driven by Open Science policies and “a nebula of EU-funded projects and working groups shaping open research data infrastructures”. The second is characterized by extremely specialized metadata practices. All these different scales need to be managed in concert and that is a challenge.
This was an insightful conclusion of the round table discussion, reminding everyone that there are multiple, co-existing “right scales” for next generation metadata that need to be interconnected and managed as a whole.
About the OCLC Research Discussion Series on Next Generation Metadata
- “Transforming Metadata into Linked Data to Improve Digital Collection Discoverability: A CONTENTdm Pilot Project”.
The round table discussions were held in different European languages and participants were able share their own experiences, get a better understanding of the topic area, and gain confidence in planning ahead.
The Opening Plenary Session opened the forum for discussion and exploration and introduced the theme and its topics. Summaries of all eight round table discussions are published on the OCLC Research blog, Hanging Together. This post is the fourth one, preceded by the posts reporting on the first English session, the Italian session and the second English session.
The Closing Plenary Session on April 13 will synthesize the different round table discussions. Registration is still open for this webinar: please join us!
Titia van der Werf is a Senior Program Officer in OCLC Research based in OCLC’s Leiden office. Titia coordinates and extends OCLC Research work throughout Europe and has special responsibilities for interactions with OCLC Research Library Partners in Europe. She represents OCLC in European and international library and cultural heritage venues.