Wikidata, Wikibase and the library linked data ecosystem: an OCLC Research Library Partnership discussion

In late July the OCLC Research Library Partnership convened a discussion that reflected on the current state of linked data. The discussion format was (for us) experimental — we invited participants to prepare by viewing a pre-recorded presentation, Re-envisioning the fabric of the bibliographic universe – From promise to reality* The presentation covers experiences of national and research libraries as well as OCLC’s own journey in linked data exploration. OCLC Researchers Annette Dortmund and Karen Smith-Yoshimura looked at relevant milestones in the journey from entity-based description research, prototypes, and on to actual practices, based on work that has been undertaken with library partners right up to the present day.

Discussion participants joined from a wide variety of backgrounds: people who were new to linked data work, those that were more experienced, those that had participated in Project Passage and are participating in the OCLC Shared Entity Management Infrastructure project and those engaged in the Program for Cooperative Cataloging’s Wikidata pilot as well as in the Art & Rare Materials BIBFRAME Ontology Extension (ARM) work. Several people had worked in Wikidata directly, others are at institutions engaged in stand-alone Wikibase instances, or considering using Wikibase for linked data experimentation.

Overall themes covered in the meeting:

  • Entity management is seen as a pathway to engagement with and access to digital collections.
  • Creating entities for faculty and graduate students is an activity of some, and one area of focus is uploading researcher ORCID iDs to Wikidata.
  • Articulating the value of contributing to Wikidata, particularly to institutional leaders, is a challenge for many.
  • On the other hand, some have experimented with contributing to Wikidata on behalf of an institution as a “work from home” project during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • There is still a need for training and exemplars especially for specific material types and to support specific workflows.
  • Is there a fallacy in the holy grail of a single hub, or can we see opportunities for surfing the semantic web?

The discussion revealed some areas of concern or opportunity:

  • Data modeling is a major challenge, for all types of material.
  • Identifiers for subject strings need to be minted as needed.
  • Community vs local control: Participants anticipate tensions in managing descriptions and entities by a community rather than by a small group of approved experts.
  • Art collections have special descriptive requirements that need to be accommodated.
  • The concept of Federated Wikibases sounds promising, but there is a need to understand how this will work in practice

Resources shared during the discussion included:

*The title of this session is inspired by kalan Knudson Davis’s blog post, An insider’s look at “Project Passage” in seven linked data lessons, six constants, five changes … and four webcomics in which she characterized the linked data endeavor as “re-envisioning the very fabric of the Bibliographic Universe.”