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Focus on Metadata: Jennifer Bowen on the New Metadata Environment

Submitted by Jennifer Bowen on February 24, 2010 - 11:18am

In this post, Jennifer Bowen discusses the implications of Karen Coyle's January issue of Library Technology Reports, and places it in the current context of Metadata librarianship.
--Daniel A. Freeman

A couple of years ago, while in the thick of RDA development, I started hearing some pretty ominous statements from some of my metadata colleagues.   They were saying that if libraries are to remain relevant in the future, then library metadata MUST be transformed to enable it to function within a web environment.  They felt that if RDA fails to make this happen, then library catalogs and cataloging are doomed to oblivion.  Ouch – no pressure there!  Amid other equally strident voices warning that we shouldn’t stray too much from AACR2 and ISBD, I found these calls for drastic change to be more than a little perplexing!

I admit that I first decided to listen seriously to the folks demanding change, not because I found the arguments to be immediately understandable and compelling, but because of the great respect that I have for the individuals (Karen Coyle and Diane Hillmann among them) who were making them.   And after listening for a while, the arguments DID become more compelling.  And the more I tried to understand what they were saying, the more compelling their explanations became.

In her January 2010 issue of Library Technology Reports, “Understanding the Semantic Web:  Bibliographic Data and Metadata,” Karen Coyle has now written the explanation that I needed two years ago!  Thank you, Karen, for writing something so free of confusing jargon, and so full of real life examples to guide everyone through this difficult topic.  I find it even MORE valuable that Karen’s report is not seeped in doom-and-gloom about the future, but wonderful excitement about the possible roles that libraries could take on in a broader online environment, with library metadata informing and populating any number of innovative web applications, built by just about anyone!  How cool is that?

While the discussion about the relationship between library metadata and the Semantic Web may seem to be in its infancy, the “Library Linked Data Movement” (to give it a name) is already maturing in interesting ways.  We (and I now consider myself part of this discussion group) are all on various stages of the learning curve.  Some, like Karen, are out leading the way, and trying to find a way to “fit” library practices into the theoretical concepts of the Semantic Web.  While I still struggle to explain the difference between OWL and SKOS, I find that I understand the concepts at a deeper level the more that I work with actual data.   I now understand the beginnings of what it takes to make our legacy metadata work on the web, and am working to find practical solutions to make that happen using software being developed for the eXtensible Catalog. 

Karen is quite correct when she says that “The movement of library data into the linked data cloud is not as far off as it might seem,” because we have already developed open source software for the eXtensible Catalog that enables libraries to get started with this process.  While the eXtensible Catalog (XC) software can be used as an end-to-end next generation discovery system, the various XC software toolkits can also be used alone or in various combinations to provide a platform for preparing metadata to work in a variety of environments, including the Semantic Web.  XC software provides a way for libraries to experiment with transforming legacy catalog data and making it available as linked data.   Just as importantly, we’ve designed XC software so that it will work alongside MARC-based systems, which allows libraries to experiment with their data in new environments without migrating away from their current Integrated Library Systems.   As Karen said recently during a College of DuPage webinar (http://www.dupagepress.com/index.php?id=4426), XC gives libraries a way to get started!

The bottom line:  libraries don’t need to wait to get started in this area – there is a huge opportunity here, and no good reason to wait.  In fact, there is every reason NOT to wait until everything is figured out by someone else – we need to (and can!) figure it out for ourselves! 

For more information about the eXtensible Catalog, please visit our website at www.eXtensibleCatalog.org (revamped website coming soon!).    On this site you’ll find links to many presentations about XC, including a series of webcasts about the software (http://www.screencast.com/users/eXtensibleCatalog) and a paper describing our work on XC related to metadata (http://hdl.handle.net/1802/6377).

I’m looking forward to Karen’s February issue of  Library Technology Reports, which will delve more into how RDA is now becoming a part of the Linked Data environment.   We are working with some aspects of RDA as part of the XC Project, and I will have more to say in response to that report, especially regarding our findings about what works and what doesn’t, in terms of transforming legacy library data to linked data.

A group of Metadata librarians are also planning an ALCTS Preconference entitled, “Linked Data: Making Library Data Converse with the World”for the ALA Annual Conference in Washington D.C. (http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/alcts/confevents/upcoming/ala/ac10/linked.cfm).  If you’d like to learn more, please join us! 

Jennifer Bowen (jbowen@library.rochester.edu) is Assistant Dean for Information Management Services at the University of Rochester River Campus Libraries, and Co-Executive Director of the eXtensible Catalog Organization.  She was involved with RDA development as a former ALA representative to the Joint Steering Committee for the Revision of AACR2, and more recently has been actively exploring ways that legacy MARC data can be reused in other discovery environments and a non-MARC implementation of part of RDA within the eXtensible Catalog.