Friday, March 19, 2010

The semantic web and linked data in libraries

In this month’s Library Gang 2.0 the discussion was about the Semantic Web and linked data. It was certainly an interesting discussion involving Karen Coyle, Marshall Breeding from Vanderbilt, Richard Wallis of TALIS and myself. Karen started out describing the world of linked data and how she saw the Semantic Web concepts advancing the goals of linked data. (Note: Karen has recently written a Library Technology Report on this subject, which was the basis for this entire discussion). In that document, Karen quite rightly points out that librarians need to “transform our data so that it can become part of the dominant information environment on the web” so that “the library catalog can move from being ‘on the Web’ to being ‘of the Web’”

I pointed out that semantic web shows the future possibilities of the Web but that data on a world-wide basis realistically can’t be hammered into the model of the semantic web. Furthermore, the vision of the semantic web requires broad agreement across a massive number of user communities and that would be very difficult to achieve. The semantic web is also dependent upon ontologies and inference capabilities that are simply beyond our ability to define and put in place today. So the semantic web, on a broad basis, falls apart. Finally, by the time the vision of Semantic Web is actually implemented, technology will have changed so fast and so much that what we’ll actually see created will be very different than what is envisioned today. As Karen points out, the Semantic Web is currently the “flavor of the month” as far as technology goes and I couldn’t agree more.

Karen’s report and this Library Gang 2.0 podcast are an interesting exploration of the applications of the principles of the Semantic Web and how libraries can benefit from the concepts at foundational levels today. I encourage you to read Karen's report and listen to the podcast.