The Academy Unbound: Linked Data as Revolution

By Schreur, Philip Evan | Library Resources & Technical Services, October 2012 | Go to article overview

The Academy Unbound: Linked Data as Revolution


Schreur, Philip Evan, Library Resources & Technical Services


Linked data has the potential to revolutionize the academic world of information creation and exchange. Basic tenets of what libraries collect, how they collect, how they organize, and how they provide information will be questioned and rethought. Limited pools of bibliographic records for information resources will be enhanced by data captured at creation. By harvesting the entire output of the academy, an immensely rich web of data will be created that will liberate research and teaching from the limited, disconnected silos of information that they are dependent on today.

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A revolution is at hand, one that is potentially as world-altering as the development of the web. And, as are most truly transformative revolutions, it is driven by a simple concept: in this case, linked data. Linked data has the potential to change most aspects of the universe of information creation and exchange. As a primary purveyor of information, the academy will be at the nexus of this revolution. The information infrastructure of this world will be dramatically altered as basic tenets of what it collects and how it collects, organizes, and provides information are questioned and rethought. Much has been said about linked data, its ties to the Semantic Web, and its application for libraries, but what is it exactly and how does it work?

This paper aims to answer these questions by defining linked data, discussing problems with libraries' focus on bibliographic records, and exploring the potential of linked data as a solution in a rapidly evolving global discovery environment. A new discovery approach developed by the Bibliotheque nationale de France is presented as a service that takes advantage of the potential of linked data.

What Is Linked Data?

Linked data has so much potential because it is imbedded in the fabric of the web. As more aspects of professional and private life move to the cloud, the way in which information is stored and linked on the web becomes crucial. The four tenets of linked data are simple: (1) use URIs (Uniform Resource Identifiers) to name resources on the web; (2) use HTTP URIs so someone can find the resources; (3) have the information provided by the link be useful, and provide that information using standards (RDK SPARQL); and (4) provide links to other URIs so people can discover related information. (1)

Linked data are commonly published using the Resource Description Framework (RDF). (2) Each expression in RDF has a subject, a predicate, and an object. This simple structure allows anyone to make simple assertions about anything, for instance, The Raven (subject) has author (predicate) Edgar Allan Poe (object). Ideally, both the subject and object would be represented by URIs (a string of characters used to identify a name or resource on the web) and the statement itself expressed using an XML-based syntax. By using RDF, applications can exchange information on the web without loss of meaning. Because RDF is a widely used model, information expressed with it can be used by many applications and applications can be developed to take advantage of this growing pool of data.

RDF is a model of entities and relationships. As such, it is well adapted to be the basis of an entity-relationship model in support of linked data. (3) A strength of this model is that it allows anyone to make assertions about anything. Equally powerful is that any two entities may be linked and, through this process, an immensely rich web of data can be created. Although nothing requires that these statements are true (e.g., "'The Raven has author Philip Schreur" is an equally valid statement in RDF as "The Raven has author Edgar Allen Poe"), anyone may correct invalid statements. Through this iterative process of data use and correction, the web of data becomes richer and more reliable; this is crowdsourcing at a truly international level.

Breaking the Tyranny of Records

Since the days of the card catalog, libraries have focused on bibliographic records. …

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