CNI fall 2014 Dispatch: It’s all about relationships

Image by Elco van Staveren used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

[Author’s note: this post was also published on my personal website and is the second of two posts there about CNI.]

At CNI 2014, I decided to pick a topic and focus, rather than graze on all the various and interesting issues being discussed. So I attended all the sessions that had to do with linked data plus related technologies and standards.

Why linked data? It has the potential to radically change the way that library and other research data can be consumed, repurposed, discovered, and displayed on the web, through search engines, and in specialized catalogs and websites. But until yesterday, I didn’t really understand how it worked. Basically, linked data allows you to express relationships between and among things (or “entities”),  to make those relationships actionable (clickable, usable, sortable, displayable) by machines and humans. And, with enough linked data out there on the Internet, you can leverage and expose relationships among bits of information that are stored in different places. (I’ve found that most introductions to linked data can get pretty complicated pretty quickly. I’m happy for recommendations.)

At the update on the Linked Data For Libraries (LD4L) project, Dean Krafft (Cornell) and Tom Cramer (Stanford) shared their LD4L project use cases. This one is a good example of what linked data can do for scholars:

Example story: As a faculty member or librarian, I want to create a virtual collection or exhibit containing information resources from multiple collections across multiple universities either by direct selection or by a set of resource characteristics, so that I can share a focused collection with a <class, set of researchers, set of students in a disciplinary area>.

As you can see from this user story, linked data can connect things and facilitate discovery across the Internet in ways that we just can’t do without it.

In their session, Barbara Bushman and Nancy Fallgren described what they’re doing at the National Library of Medicine. See their GitHub repository of code and documentation for their beta MESH and RDF project.

In yet another linked data session, Kenning Arlitsch (Montana State University) underscored the need for libraries to mark up their data in ways that can make it more discoverable on the web (see and Google knowledge graph cards, for instance).

Another related technology is BIBFRAME, which is a new way to express library descriptive information (replacing MARC) and to leverage linked data to connect information. Karim Boughida (George Washington U) explained that the platform for library data is not just the library catalog anymore, it’s the web itself. BIBFRAME allows us to structure our data in a way that is ultimately consumable as linked data on the web.

Taking a break from linked data, I attended Jerome McDonough’s session on preserving our intangible cultural heritage (cuisine, dance, games, etc.), which requires that we stop thinking about archiving information and instead think about preserving knowledge. Jerry gave the example of archiving a game: to preserve it as an interpretable object you need to also preserve a body of information about and around the game (e.g., development documentation from the company, advertisements, collectables created in conjunction with the game, videos related to it). As well, preserved materials on gaming or cuisine will be stored in lots of places: libraries, museums, archives, etc. Jerry underscored that all the info you need for intellectual context is out there in the world, but the places where this context is stored don’t communicate with each other. So what do we do? Jerry suggests we stop educating people to be librarians, archivists & curators, and start training “librarchators” (his humorous word) who will think more broadly than we currently do about collecting and preserving knowledge. “To make progress we can’t just change the technologies we use, we also need to change the social side of our work.” (So relationships are important here as well).

I also saw a session by funders–the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Council on Library and Information Resources, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the National Historical Publications & Records Commission (part of NARA)–that all emphasized their interest in engaging the public in our work. For example, the NEH’s “Public Scholar” grant program, and the National Historical Publications & Records Commission’s Literacy and Engagement grant. Kathleen Williams summed it up when she said that the nature of the relationship between historical records and users has changed, and that it’s time to think in new ways to engage the public.

So I would say that the theme of this conference for me was the importance of RELATIONSHIPS, including creating relationships using linked data, collecting metadata and context in order to preserve our intangible cultural heritage, and especially the relationships among all the people who came together at CNI fall 2014 to share what they know with each other.

4 thoughts on “CNI fall 2014 Dispatch: It’s all about relationships”

  1. I like how Boughida phrased this (or how you paraphrased him): “the platform for library data is not just the library catalog anymore, it’s the web itself.” And I think he’s right.

    1. Daniel,
      I recently read Dale Askey’s article “Giving up on discovery” suggesting that we stop focusing on local discovery systems and instead make our content more discoverable in systems users do use (google). The comment by Anja Smit on this post (re. how the Utrecht University Library was giving up their local discovery system & OPAC entirely) is particularly interesting.

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