This post is part of a series reporting back from conversations on transitioning to the next generation of metadata in Spain, this time focusing on author identification in the trade book supply chain (A Spanish translation is available here).
My colleague Francesc García Grimau from the OCLC office in Spain and I hosted the session on 1 June 2022. As with the previous sessions (on Research Information Management and Cultural Heritage) we wanted to offer the opportunity to share information about innovative (next generation of) metadata projects and initiatives in the sector under scrutiny and discuss cross-stakeholder collaboration. For the trade book supply chain, the potential areas of interest are the metadata exchanges between publishers, book distributors, booksellers, and libraries.
Key Spanish stakeholders attended the session. The Spanish Books in print Information Distributor (DILVE) and the International Standard Book Number (ISBN)-agency – both managed by the Spanish Association of Publishers Guilds (FGEE) – were represented, along with the Spanish Reproduction Rights Centre (CEDRO), and the National Library of Spain (BNE), which manages the Legal Deposit and the International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI) registration agency. The governing bodies of public libraries from both the Barcelona Municipality and Province were also represented at the round table.
To kick off the session and stimulate the discussion, Andrew MacEwan – Head of Metadata at the British Library (BL) and Board member of the ISNI International Agency – gave a helpful update on BL’s collaboration with publishers in the UK to promote use of ISNI identifiers in the upstream supply chain. This triggered a fruitful discussion in which the participants of the round table converged to agree that author identity management is a crucial part of the metadata supply chain of trade books and that it is currently a painstakingly laborious process requiring duplicative efforts from the different actors in the chain. Their main take-away was a raised awareness of the role ISNI can play to eliminate duplication and automate the process. Below you can read a synopsis of the session.
ISNI connecting metadata through the supply chain
Andrew MacEwan first shared some background on the ISNI standard (ISO 27729) for name identification. It covers names of creators and contributors (authors, editors, musicians, actors, artists, etc.) – even names of fictional characters – and names of organizations, groups, etc. ISNI was designed to disambiguate and act as a bridge identifier that could be used – and is being used – by different sectors (library, research, publishers, book trade, sound recordings, creative industries, etc.) to connect the metadata silos throughout the supply chain.
Libraries at the conception of ISNI
The BL is a founding member of ISNI. Other members actively involved with the ISNI organization are: Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF), CISAC (the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers), IFRRO (International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations), EDItEUR (International standards organization for the exchange of data in the book and journal supply chains) and OCLC. Libraries represent almost half of the whole ISNI membership.
To kick-start the ISNI database, it was built on contributed data from national library authority files – namely, the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF) which is a huge dataset of already curated and linked data.
In the library sector, various national libraries, legal deposit libraries, bibliographic agencies and cooperative cataloguing programs around the world have set-up ISNI registration agencies. They have tended to focus on their own identification needs and workflows related to legal deposit and name authority control. More recently, some of them are also engaged in providing ISNI-services to other organizations and stakeholder-communities. The BL is a case in point.
Scaling up the uptake of ISNIs in the upstream supply chain
The BL is an ISNI registration agency and a major user of ISNIs: it is embedding them at scale in all its legacy bibliographic data, authority data and workflows – including the British National Bibliography (BNB) Graph. In doing so, it has developed capacity for the large-scale disambiguation and matching of names, using the BNB-based reconciliation file, VIAF, NACO files and the ISNI-database. This capacity has enabled the BL to provide ISNI-matching batch services to partners in the upstream supply chain, namely: 1) to publishers for integrating ISNIs in their ONIX-files and 2) to the Bibliographic Data Service (BDS) for including ISNIs in the Cataloging-in-Publication (CIP) workflows in the UK.
This huge work was not achieved overnight and started in 2018 with a series of engagement activities with a group of publishers and interested stakeholders (among others: BDS, BIC, EDItEUR, ISBN international agency, Cambridge University Press, Penguin/Random House, and more UK-based publishers). As the automatic retro-assignment of ISNIs is becoming more mature and achieving higher success rates, more publishers are joining the group (also from the US) and they are aiming at 100% coverage for all their authors.
Andrew mentioned similar ISNI engagement initiatives by other national libraries. The BnF for example is integrating ISNIs in their CIP workflows with an ISNI-feedback loop to publishers. The National Library of Finland recently started a collaboration project with copyright management organizations covering all creative sectors in Finland as their starting point to integrate ISNIs in the supply chain.
Balancing sector-specific and cross-sector needs
Different ISNI consultation groups are forming based on the sector they represent, such as: Library, Music, Research, Publishing (coming soon). It is interesting to hear about the sector specific issues they raise with name identification: ISNI in the book supply chain (Library sector), pseudonymization and gender identity (Music sector), liaison with ORCID (Research sector). These groups provide sector specific feedback to the ISNI governing Board and help prioritizing user requirements. However, Andrew underscored the power of ISNI as a “bridge identifier” allowing the identification of creators, performers, and authors across different sectors. Therefore, it will be important to balance the sector-specific and cross-sector interests of the ISNI user communities.
Creating good metadata from the beginning for reuse by others in the chain
In closing, Andrew stressed the importance of feeding “good metadata” to the supply chain:
“(…) good metadata at the beginning of any supply chain should be re-used. That’s what we are trying to build with ISNI, hence the connection with the supply chain and trying to engage across the supply chain (…) so that we can reuse good metadata right from the beginning, (…) when some metadata is first created it becomes functional right through to anybody’s use case. (…) and I think different stages in the supply chain have the opportunity to add value according to business needs.”
He added that this is particularly the case with author identification, which is of value from the start, and if shared throughout the supply chain, it could facilitate automation, interoperability, and efficiency.
Andrew’s presentation sparked interest in the data flows and the role of ISNI in the Spanish trade book sector.
Metadata flows in the Spanish book supply chain
We learned from the attendees that DILVE is a central player in the metadata supply chain of the sector. Publishers send information about books-in-publication to the DILVE platform and register their new titles with the Spanish ISBN Agency – which runs its own database. On the DILVE platform publishers can further enrich their data with additional information such as THEMA subject headings, pricing and logistic information. DILVE reshares the enriched title information as ONIX-files downstream the supply chain with CEDRO, retailers, booksellers, and libraries.
The ISBN Registry database supplies ISBNs to publishers but it does not share its data with DILVE or anyone from the book supply chain.
As an ISNI-registration agency, BNE registers ISNIs for individual authors, publishers, and universities – who request identifiers for their researchers. BNE feeds the trade book supply chain – via DILVE – on a regular basis with updates of the newly assigned ISNIs. It also supplies the corresponding BNE-authority records, which provide additional information for name disambiguation. CEDRO – being an ISNI member – can also assign ISNIs for authors that are associated with CEDRO.
Author identification: a recurring bottleneck across the chain
The existing situation raised a discussion around the importance of author identification in the supply chain. For BNE, author identification of legal deposit publications is a major issue. It requires intensive manual effort and slows down the work enormously. If an author identifier were provided by the publisher, the process could be automated. For CEDRO as well, the metadata needs to be accurate – in particular the authors’ name information, because of the importance of correctly attributing authorship, recording associated copyrights, and managing secondary rights (such as when libraries lend books). It was interesting to hear about characteristics of Spanish person names which make disambiguation specifically challenging:
“In Spain individuals have multiple names – at least two names and two surnames – (…) There are so many homonyms that identifying an author is sometimes practically impossible (…) and nowadays it is fashionable to use only one last name, a big problem, because homonyms multiply for us.”
Joining hands to accelerate the uptake of ISNIs
Our session participants wondered how the uptake of ISNIs could best be accelerated. Country-wide self-registration by authors did not seem feasible, with so many potential issues around privacy (e.g., recording date of birth), enforcement and quality control. Author registration via the publisher seemed more attainable. Would it help to make the author-id field in ONIX mandatory? Should the author identifier be included – in addition to the author’s name – in the copyright notice on the back of the title page in print books? For three years now, DILVE has been promoting the adoption of ISNIs by publishers upstream, but with more than 3.500 publishers to serve, it would be a big challenge to enforce this. However, DILVE’s representative said the discussion had made him aware of the centrality of author identification in the supply chain and the benefit that a unique author identifier like ISNI could bring to all stakeholders. CEDRO and BNE proposed to share each other’s ISNI files for comparison and alignment of practices. All parties at the table were happy to work with BNE to promote the use of ISNIs for better interoperability in the book supply chain.
Opportunities to engage public libraries
For the representatives of public libraries at the table, the session had been informative. They do not use the metadata from the DILVE database for pre-cataloging because they mostly still catalog with “the physical book in hand”. They manage authority files for local authors – however, they do not register all the information they collect about local writers or musicians performing at local events and concerts. They did see opportunities for the future, when the organization and dissemination of local knowledge gets more traction and when e-books, and streaming music would become dominant in Spanish public libraries.
A taste for more
All in all, this third session in our Spanish series of round table discussions on next generation of metadata has been very informative and productive. Participants went home with new insights, new contact persons to link-up with, and next steps for collaborating with each other. Francesc and I were grateful for their engaged participation in an open and frank conversation.
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.