Advancing linked data for archives and special collections: a new publication from the OCLC RLP

When we think about work in OCLC Research and in the OCLC Research Library Partnership, we take a number of different things into consideration. We think about how we are positioned to make a distinctive contribution; we reflect on how new work may build on or draw from previous work; we also consider if a new project is a good fit for our strengths as a team. And of course, we weigh how much any new work will benefit the RLP.

A project combining archives and special collections with linked data is about as perfect a combination that we could hope for! Discussions and actions around linked data have been going on for over a decade (including activities within the OCLC RLP’s Metadata Managers Focus Group, OCLC Technical Research, and OCLC Global Product Management). At many points during that history, special collections materials were part of experimentations and investigation.

Work on unique and distinctive collections is a hallmark of the OCLC RLP, and we boast an impressive body of foundational work spanning back decades. In terms of the importance for the OCLC RLP, as libraries and other cultural heritage organizations shift to a linked data future, it critical that special collections materials (rare books, manuscripts, photographs, institutional archives, etc.) that may be unique or may have special physical characteristics are included in that future.

A decade of linked data

In order to advance this work we put out a call to the OCLC RLP in 2019 and recruited 16 professionals to form the Archives and Special Collections Linked Data Review Group.  The power of the group was the representation of varied strengths. We included people who had deep expertise in describing archives, or digital collections or rare books. Some members had engaged with linked data deeply, while others were relatively new to linked data. The group, supported by OCLC staff, explored key areas of concern for special collections in transitioning to a linked data environment. We met monthly, with members of the group presenting on a variety of projects to help showcase promising areas for linked data for special collections, as well as to explore areas of friction.  Conversations covered a wide array of topics and ultimately culminated in the publication of the position paper, Archives and Special Collections Linked Data: Navigating between Notes and Nodes. The paper outlines both challenges and opportunities for representing archives and special collections using linked data.

We are grateful to those that participated in this work, and want to recognize that the group faced a special challenge as libraries globally shifted gears dramatically due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. This came right as we were finishing up the work and drafting the findings. This could have easily (and understandably) derailed the group but it did not. Thank you to all who contributed generously and thoughtfully:

• Erin Blake, Folger Shakespeare Library
• Itza Carbajal, University of Texas Austin
• Regine Heberlein, Princeton University
• Sarah Horowitz, Haverford College
• Jason Kovari, Cornell University
• Vanessa Lacey, University of Cambridge
• Cory Lampert, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
• Darnelle Melvin, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
• Holly Mengel, University of Pennsylvania
• Cory Nimer, Brigham Young University
• Maria Oldal, Morgan Library and Museum
• Merrilee Proffitt, OCLC
• Nathan Putnam, OCLC
• Arielle Rambo, Library Company of Philadelphia
• Elizabeth Roke, Emory University
• Eric de Ruijter, International Institute of Social History
• Dan Santamaria, Tufts University
• Karen Smith-Yoshimura, OCLC
• Weatherly Stephan, New York University
• Bruce Washburn, OCLC
• Chela Scott Weber, OCLC