18 April 2009

The semantic web and principles of cataloguing


I found a little bit in a blog post by Bex Huff that caught my attention for a while and reminded me of something I used to do for much of my working day. Bex was writing about the semantic web and the fallibilities of distributed computing and quoted Tim Berners-Lee.


“… in an attempt to breath (sic) relevance back into the "Semantic Web," Tim claims that "Real Linked Data" needs to follow three basic rules:

  1. URLs should not just go to documents, but structured data describing what the document is about: people, places, products, events, etc.
  2. The data should be important and meaningful, and should be in some kind of standard format.
  3. The returned structured data has relationships to other kinds of structured data. If a person was born in Germany, the data about that user should contain a link to the data about Germany. “

Catalogue record It made me think about cataloguing library books. A good deal of my working day, before the internet really took off, was cataloguing books. I created machine readable catalogue (MARC) records which did not just point to books (Dewey & later on LC Call numbers), but to structured data describing what the books were about. This took the form of links to authority records for subject headings about people, places, things and events described within the book. In addition there were links to authority records for people and corporate bodies associated with the creation of the book. These records in turn linked to more books (and other objects) associated with the people, places, things and events.

Talk about a semantic web!

In more recent times in some libraries there has been a drift away from the diligence and time allocated for creating and maintaining the semantic relationships between items in library collections. There has been more focus on just describing the “books” and less on fortifying the structured relationships associated with them. Online keyword searching had a big influence on this thinking, along with the expense of resourcing this labour intensive work. While keyword searching in an online database does enable relationships to be found in a way that could never happen in a card catalogue, it does not replace the wealth of structured data that works behind the scenes bringing greater relevance to the searchers’ results and enhanced access to other works based on the relationships identified in the structured data.

Image “I am sick of bibliographic records” by Litandmore, reproduced here under a Creative Commons License.

The Semantic Web Versus The Fallacies Of Distributed Computing
Fri, 10 Apr 2009 23:26:19 GMT