Connecting Libraries to the Semantic Web

After finishing my MLIS in 2015 I briefly worked as a research assistant in the area of Human Computer Interaction at the iSchool in UCD. This experience, in addition to my love of libraries, inspired me to pursue a PhD in Computer Science, with a focus on the use of Linked Data in the library domain, with the ADAPT Centre in TCD.

In this post I’m going to give a (very) brief introduction to the Semantic Web and Linked Data, and discuss how these technologies can be used for the benefit of libraries. I’m then going to discuss my research in the hopes that it may inspire some of you to participate in my research and also to collaborate with a computer scientist near you!

What is the Semantic Web and Linked Data?

The Web contains a vast amount of information presented in the form of webpages linked together via hyperlinks. In order to find specific resources on the web, search engines are used to rank webpages based on relevancy via keyword searches. While this is done to great effect, unlike humans, computers have very little understanding of the meaning of data on the web, nor do they understand the relationships (links) between them.

The Semantic Web (SW) is an extension of the current web in which information is given well defined meaning, e.g. person’s name, book title. Linked Data (LD) involves creating identifiers for web resources and then linking them together by meaningfully describing their relationships, e.g. author of, in a common machine-readable format. Therefore, the sentence ‘JK Rowling (name) wrote (author) Harry Potter (title)’ is not only meaningful to a human reader, but also to a machine. This data can then be linked to endless amounts of other related resources, e.g. publisher, year, illustrator, other works – thus creating a Web of Data!

In essence, the vision of the Semantic Web and Linked Data is to transform the web into one large interlinked and searchable database rather than a disparate collection of documents.

Why Should Information Professionals be Interested?

From the perspective of a library, participating in the SW could greatly enhance information discovery. By freeing metadata from library databases and sharing it on the SW, libraries could make their resources more visible on a global scale. Publishing to the SW would also allow libraries to share their metadata with greater ease which could lead to a reduction in time spent cataloguing, reducing library costs. In addition, the process of interlinking LD resources with those emerging from other cultural heritage institutions would allow researchers to be directed to a web of related data based on a single information search.

Despite these benefits, relatively few libraries are participating in the SW. In my view, one of the main reasons for this is that current LD technologies are not designed with the workflows, needs or expertise of librarians in mind.

My Research

One of my research goals is to explore how LD technologies could be made more engaging for librarians, with a particular focus on the process of interlinking LD datasets. I decided to focus on this area due to the fact that, although increasing numbers of libraries are publishing LD, few have successfully interlinked their data with other LD resources – a central aspect of the SW.

I’m currently in the process of collecting data from information professionals in relation to their views on LD for libraries, archives and other cultural heritage institutions. I’m also gathering data on the types of interfaces information professionals like to use. I’m doing this so that I can design an interface that is easy to use, and that will also meet librarians’ requirements in relation to interlinking LD datasets. If you would like to participate in this research, I would be most grateful if you completed my questionnaire at https://goo.gl/gbGZ1v.

Finally, another one of my goals is to inspire future collaborations between computer scientists and information professionals. I believe that both these groups have so much to offer each other in terms of ideas, expertise and data, and that there is huge potential for some really interesting and unique research. So please, get collaborating!

Sources

  1. Berners-Lee, T., Hendler, J., & Lassila, O. (2001). The Semantic Web. Scientific American, 284(5), 1-5.
  2. Bizer, C., Heath, T., & Berners-Lee, T. (2009). Linked Data – The Story So Far. International Journal on Semantic Web and Information Systems, 5(3), 1-22.
  3. Hastings, R.: Linked Data in Libraries: Status and Future Direction. Computers in 
Libraries, 35, 12–16 (2015)
  4. Gonzales, B. M.: Linking Libraries to the Web: Linked Data and the Future of the 
Bibliographic Record. ITAL, 33, 10–22 (2014)
  5. Ryan, C., Grant, R., Carragin, E., Collins, S., Decker, S., Lopes, N.: Linked Data 
Authority records for Irish Place Names. IJDL, 15, 73–85 (2015)
  6. OCLC: Online Computer Library Center, (2017), http://www.oclc.org/ 
 research/themes/data-science/linkeddata.html
  7. Hallo, M., Lujan Mora, S., Trujillo Mondejar, J. C.: Transforming library catalogs into Linked Data. ICERI (2013)
  8. Mitchell, E. T.: Library Linked Data: Early Activity and Development. Libr Technol Rep, 52, 5–33 (2016)

About the authorpicture of lucy mckenna

Lucy McKenna completed her MLIS in UCD in 2015 after which she worked as a research assistant in the area of Human Computer Interaction with Benjamin Cowan of the UCD iSchool. She is currently a student in the ADAPT Centre, Trinity College Dublin, where she is working towards a PhD in Computer Science.

@lucymckenna89

Email: lucy.mckenna@adaptcente.ie

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