As part of the discussion series on Next Generation Metadata, this blog post reports back from the Italian language round table discussion that took place on March 2, 2021. (Edit: An Italian translation of this post is available here.)
The session was attended by a heterogenous group of practitioners: University professors, librarians and researchers, as well as representatives of commercial entities and government institutions. The level of engagement was high, and so was the level of familiarity with the subject amongst all participants. The resulting discussion was very lively and very participatory in a spontaneous, informal, and relaxed way. The opportunity to discuss the issues at hand in an open dialogue rather than in a conference setting was strongly embraced by all. Surprisingly perhaps, in spite of the broad diversity of participants, there was a strong homogeneity of perspectives.
As in all other round table discussions, taking stock of projects in the regions was a first step and resulted in a map mural of projects, which indicated strong activity in all quadrants of the mural (bibliographic data, data in research information management (RIM) and scholarly communications, cultural heritage data, and any others).
The following discussion revealed several highly relevant themes, of which only a few can be touched upon in this blog post.
Interoperability and Linked Open Data
Italy was one of the first countries in Europe to provide Guidelines for Semantic Interoperability through Linked Open Data for its public administrations, led by AgID (Agency for Digital Italy). But while much has been achieved in this sector, there is a lack of coordination between initiatives and the need to find ways to increase interoperability with other sectors, including GLAM. Participants in our round table discussion felt a strong need to bring LOD initiatives in the worlds of librarianship or cultural heritage to greater awareness outside of the sector, too.
And for those who use and have known Linked Open Data for some time, it is time even to go further, combining them with artificial intelligence systems and machine learning, to add new elements to the Linked Open Data. The most recent AgID Semantic Interoperability Guidelines include an important part on semantics that leads in this very direction.
Shared standards: The cultural heritage landscape in Italy is rather fragmented, for historic and cultural reasons, resulting in a variety of independent projects and a lack of common standards (such an openness of data, quality of data, durability, long-term preservation, …) across them all. Participants felt that, especially if public money is spent, it would be valuable to have some institutional body supervising those projects to verify that a set of agreed upon standard outcomes are respected.
Reuse of ontologies: Participants felt that too often small projects create separate ontologies that remain isolated and limited in value to the specific project, which then means they remain unused by others. A stronger focus on reusing what has already been done would be helpful. National government institutions, based on the above mentioned AgID Guidelines, already follow the principle of reusing shared common ontologies where possible, in combination with the creation of links to other domain ontologies. The cultural heritage sector as a whole, including libraries, is currently creating different, but connected and connectable ontological modules. And while they may start from a local context, many of them serve and create global communities.
At the basis of sustainability is knowledge …
Projects in the area of next generation metadata often are based on one-off funding, making it difficult to maintain achievements or transform projects into production services. At the basis of sustainability is knowledge: the projects that “survive” are often those where staff involved fully understood the data production process, the potential of linked data, ontologies, and semantic web technologies, as well as the need for human intervention, not just machine interaction. It is fundamental to consider the human resources necessary to keep project outputs or results alive after project funding has ended.
Sustainability is also closely linked to the purpose and objectives of projects. Projects born only because government funding happened to be available are destined to die, whereas those that actually deliver value by e.g. improving existing services have a much greater chance of sustained and lasting impact. Participants felt that attention must be shifted to the end user, to developing new forms of access for the user, and to differentiating the type of users a project is intended to provide value for. Finally, sustainability is also linked to data quality, the selection of stable, reliable data sources and normalized data.
The transition to next generation metadata is exactly that – a transition. In this transition phase, education is of key relevance for the profession. Work processes and tools are changing. As one participant noted:
I am more concerned about professional education. We must say that for many years the cataloguer has become a “catalinker”, who can therefore create or connect objects, relationships, etc. The working flow in this area is changing and we must train new librarians in this sense. Wikidata is giving a lot of support in this, but it also needs training in librarianship schools.
In the world of universities, librarians of the future are being trained but those of the present moment are not being given the tools to keep up with changes. It is necessary to reaffirm, at the university level, and to make it clear that we are in an evolutionary moment, that we can no longer speak of cataloguing but of creating metadata and managing entities.
Some libraries have already started to accelerate change; for others that do not have the strength or the tools to do so it would be helpful to be included in cooperative networks, but those do not currently exist. Participants expressed a need for more direct cooperation, and mentioned the German nestor competence network as a best practice example. The discussion also helped participants realise that many initiatives are already pointing in the same direction, which helps confirm the value of these training activities already taking place.
In the end, participants agreed that this had been a discussion of rare preciousness, with great participation in a strong desire to improve the national infrastructure. They expressed a wish to see OCLC organise more discussions like this one and keep them open to professionals outside the library sector as well, and also, play an active role in this moment of transition.
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 seven round table discussions are published on the OCLC Research blog, Hanging Together. This post is the second one, preceded by the post reporting out on the first 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!
Dr. Annette Dortmund is a Senior Product Manager and Research Consultant at OCLC. Her work focuses on library roles and needs in the realm of non-traditional metadata, as related to research support, scholarly communications or knowledge work. She is also interested in system and social interoperability. Based in Germany, her interest is predominantly in European developments and trends.