Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 2: Changing the Nature of Library Data

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 2: Changing the Nature of Library Data

Article excerpt

Chapter Abstract

In our current technology environment, all information goes through computers before reaching a human being, so it is necessary to design our metadata to be data--that is, to give it the ability to be manipulated by computer programs. To keep pace with modern advances in technology, the library catalog data must be transformed from being primarily a textual description to a set of data elements to which machine processes can be applied; and these data elements must be compatible with the current mainstream technology that is the World Wide Web. This chapter of "Understanding the Semantic Web: Bibliographic Data and Metadata" examines what steps the library community will need to take to facilitate this transformation.

Change can be difficult, and change within long-standing communities of practice can be particularly difficult. The first hurdle is recognizing that change is necessary. The next is to understand the nature of the change: its goals, its possibilities, and the natural limitations that will inevitably move the effort from an ideal solution to a more realistic one. The last challenge is to arrive at an agreement within the community on a change that will return a good value for the effort it requires.

Among librarians, there has already been a realization that a change is needed when it comes to how libraries present their catalog data. This has been a topic of study and action for well over a decade. Such thinking produced a new model for bibliographic data, the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Data (FRBR), and a proposed new rule set for cataloging practice, Resource Description and Access (RDA).

Together these provide a new conceptual foundation but leave us with a key piece missing: how to express our data in a twenty-first-century data format. For this we are given some direction in the report of the Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control:

   Desired Outcomes: Library bibliographic data will
   move from the closed database model to the open
   Web-based model wherein records are addressable
   by programs and are in formats that can be
   easily integrated into Web services and computer
   applications. This will enable libraries to make better
   use of networked data resources and to take advantage
   of the relationships that exist (or could be made to
   exist) among various data sources on the Web. (1)

The report does not say how library data must change to make this mandate a reality. There will surely be more than one way to accomplish this goal, but a few things are certain: the library catalog data must be transformed from being primarily a textual description to a set of data elements to which machine processes can be applied; and these data elements must be compatible with the current mainstream technology that is the World Wide Web. One possible direction for library data is to join the linked data "cloud," a growing set of data on the World Wide Web that many see as having great promise for a richer information future.

From Metadata to MetaDATA

In our current technology environment, all information goes through computers before reaching a human being, so it is necessary to design our metadata to be data--that is, to give it the ability to be manipulated by computer programs. In a sense, we did this with the MARC record in the 1960s, but at that time the capabilities for processing data were much, much less advanced than they are today. It was a time before keyword searching, before data mining, and before the concept that information from a wide variety of heterogeneous sources would all intermingle over a single, large network, the Internet.

Libraries were among the first institutions to use computers to process text. In the 1960s, when the MARC format was introduced, it was extremely unusual to process fields of variable length and to process text as it is normally written, using both upper- and lowercase, punctuation, and even accented characters. …

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