Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 5: Collaborative Knowledge Bases

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 5: Collaborative Knowledge Bases

Article excerpt

The idea of an open, central, and collaboratively managed knowledge base is as old as the knowledge base itself. The first project of this type was the Jointly Administered Knowledge Environment (jake), which began at Yale University in 1999. The goal of the project was to track e-resources metadata and relationships in an open-source environment. Librarians with an interest in the project were encouraged to contribute by collecting journal title lists, correcting errors, and promoting the project with publishers and vendors. By banding together, jake participants could help reduce the duplication of effort that occurred when individual libraries each had to research and document the same information about e-journals. (1) While jake shut down for good in 2007 and never existed as more than a simple online reference of e-resources metadata, it helped set the stage for future efforts to develop open community knowledge bases.

Culling engaged in a significant discussion of the centralized knowledge base in his 2007 report to UKSG. He pointed out that vendors, like librarians, also engage in duplication of effort when it comes to managing e-resources metadata. Each knowledge base supplier must build and maintain its proprietary product in isolation--even though these products all strive to describe the exact same universe of resources. He proposed as an alternative a single central knowledge base that would use web services to provide its data freely to anyone who wished to use it. Culling concluded that while a centralized solution might be possible in the long-term future, it would require significant investment and management from an organization that had the resources to support it. (2)

Another eloquent plea for a centralized knowledge base came from Singer in a 2008 article. He disputed the notion that a single entity would need to manage such a knowledge base and instead pointed to successful projects like Wikipedia and the Internet Archive, which harness the power of many invested users to manage open, dynamic content. Singer acknowledged the difficulties of creating such a service, including modeling complex data and coordinating the involvement of large numbers of data managers. However, he believed the payoff in implementing this model would ultimately be worth the cost:

   The knowledgebase crisis is not going away, and
   as the digital universe expands, especially to new
   and different formats, it will only get more difficult
   to manage. By tapping into the power of the
   entire community--from the beginning of the
   publishing chain to the end-user--the knowledgebase
   becomes self-sustaining and finds new and
   interesting uses along the way. (3)

While Singer's vision has certainly not become reality yet, several projects that have emerged over the past five years demonstrate that the desire remains to collectively improve knowledge base data and ease its flow across the supply chain.

Community-Managed Knowledge Bases

The Global Open Knowledgebase

(Full disclosure: I am the principal investigator of the GOKb project, and any uncited information regarding the project in this section comes from my personal experiences.)

The project most closely aligned with the grand vision for knowledge base collaboration is the Global Open Knowledgebase (GOKb.) Not unlike jake, the project aims to provide a fully open, community-managed knowledge base that describes electronic journals and books and their relationships. The three major ambitions for the GOKb project are improving data quality across the supply chain, reducing duplication of effort, and encouraging interoperability between systems. GOKb's focus on openness, collective effort, and enhanced data model (described in chapter 4) all contribute to its work in these areas.

The GOKb project began as a joint venture between Jisc and the Kuali OLE project. In addition to support provided by these institutional project partners, GOKb also employs one full-time staff member, the GOKb editor. …

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