As part of the OCLC Research Discussion Series on Next Generation Metadata, this blog post reports back from the Dutch language round table discussion held on March 8, 2021. (A Dutch translation is available here).
Librarians – with backgrounds in metadata, library systems, reference work, national bibliography, and back-office processes – joined the session, representing a nice mix of academic and heritage institutions from the Netherlands and Belgium. The participants were engaged, candid, and thoughtful and this stimulated constructive knowledge exchange in a pleasant atmosphere.
As in all the other round table discussions, participants started with taking stock of next generation metadata projects in their region or initiatives they were aware of elsewhere. The resulting map shows a strong representation of bibliographic and cultural heritage data-projects (see upper- and lower-left quadrants of the matrix). Several next-generation metadata research projects of the National Library of the Netherlands were listed and described, such as:
- Automatic Metadata Generation, which identifies and tests tools to support subject tagging and cataloging of name authority records;
- The Entity Finder, a tool being developed to help extract RDA entities (persons, works, expressions) from both authority and bibliographic records.
The Digital Heritage Reference Architecture (DERA) was developed as part of the national strategy for digital heritage in the Netherlands. It is a framework for managing and publishing heritage information as Linked Open Data (LOD), according to agreed practices and conventions. The Van Gogh Worldwide platform is an exemplar of the application of DERA – where metadata, relating to the painter’s art works residing at 17 different Dutch heritage institutions and private collectors, have been pulled from source systems by API.
A noteworthy initiative listed in the RIM/Scholarly Communications quadrant of the matrix is the NL-Open Knowledge Base, an initiative in the context of last year’s deal between Elsevier and the Dutch Research institutions, to jointly develop open science services based on their RIM systems, Elsevier’s databases and analytics solutions and the Dutch funding organizations’ databases. The envisaged Open Knowledge Base could potentially feed new applications – for example, a dashboard to monitor the achievement of the universities’ Sustainable Development Goals – and allow to significantly improve the analysis of research impact.
What is keeping us from moving forward?
Notwithstanding the state-of-the-art projects mentioned during the mapping exercise, the participants were impatient about the pace of the transition to the next generation of metadata. One participant experienced frustration with having to use multiple tools for a workflow that supports the transition, namely: integration of PIDs, local authorities, or links to and from external sources. Another participant noted that there is still a lot of efficiency to be gained in the value chain:
“When we look at the supply chain, it is absurd to start from scratch because there is already so much data. When a book comes out on the market, it must already have been described. There should not be a need to start from scratch in the library.”
The group also wondered – with so many bibliographic datasets already published as Linked Open Data – what else needs to be done to interconnect them in meaningful ways?
The question of what is keeping us from moving forward dominated the discussion.
Trusting external data
One participant suggested that libraries are cautious about the data sources they link up with. Authority files are persistent and reliable data sources, which have yet to find their counterparts in the newly emerging linked data ecosystem. The lack of conventions around reliability and persistence might be a reason why libraries are hesitant entering into linked data partnerships or holding back from relying on external data – even from established sources, such as Wikidata. After all, linking to a data source is an indication of trust and recognition of data quality.
The conversation moved to data models: which linked data do you create yourself? How will you design it and link it up to other data? Some participants found there was still a lack of agreement and clarity about the meaning of key concepts such as a “work”. Others pointed out that defining the meaning of concepts used is exactly what linked data is about and this feature allows the co-existence of multiple ontologies – in other words, there is no need any longer to fix semantics in hard standards.
“There is no unique semantic model. When you refer to data that has already been defined by others, you relinquish control over that piece of information, and that can be a mental barrier against doing linked data the proper way. It is much safer to store and manage all the data in your own silo. But the moment you can let go of that, the world can become much richer than you can ever achieve on your own.”
Thinking in terms of linked data
The conversation turned to the need to train cataloging staff. One participant thought it would be helpful to get started by learning to think in terms of linked data, to mentally practice building linked data graphs and play with different possible structures, as one does with LEGO bricks. The group agreed there is still too little understanding of the possibilities and of the consequences of practicing linked data.
“We have to learn to see ourselves as publishers of metadata, so that others can find it – but we have no idea who the others are, we have to think even bigger than the Library of Congress’s NACO or WorldCat. We are no longer talking about the records we create, but about pieces of records that are unique, because a lot already comes from elsewhere. We have to wrap our minds around this and ask ourselves: What is our role in the bigger picture? This is very hard to do!”
The group thought it was very important to start having that discussion within the library. But how exactly do you do that? It’s a big topic and it must be initiated by the library’s leadership team.
Not relevant for my library
One university library leader in the group reacted to this and said:
“What strikes me is that the number of libraries faced with this challenge is shrinking. (…) [In my library] we hardly produce any metadata anymore. (…) If we look at what we still produce ourselves, it is about describing photos of student fraternities (…). It’s almost nothing anymore. Metadata has really become a topic for a small group of specialists.”
The group objected that this observation was overlooking the importance of the discovery needs of the communities libraries serve. However provocative this observation was, it reflects a reality that we need to acknowledge and at the same time put in perspective. Alas, there was no time for that, as the session was wrapping up. It had certainly been a conversation to be continued!
About the OCLC Research Discussion Series on Next Generation Metadata
- “Transitioning to the Next Generation of 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 is the last post and it is preceded by the posts reporting on the first English session, the Italian session, the second English session, the French session, the German session, the Spanish session and the third 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.