I’ve been to a couple of presentations in the last month about the Lucero linked data project, this is a JISC-funded project run by the OU’s Knowledge Media Institute, that has been working to publish a fairly wide range of university material as linked data.   One presentation by the Project Director Mathieu d’Aquin covering the wider project aspects to a university-wide audience, the other by the Project Manager, Owen Stephens, to a library audience. 

It’s a project I’ve been fortunate enough to have some involvement with and it has some impressive achievements for a short project.   Establishing as the first University-wide linked data repository, being able to release a range of different datasets from institutional repositories to course data, and not least, going some way to getting the concepts of linked data out from the laboratory and into an area where they can start to be discussed as a practical technology.

Linked data
For anyone who isn’t familiar with Linked Data it’ described by its proposer Tim Berners-Lee on his website thus:

‘The Semantic Web isn’t just about putting data on the web. It is about making links, so that a person or machine can explore the web of data.  With linked data, when you have some of it, you can find other, related, data’ 

[If you are interested in finding out more about Linked Data then is a reasonable starting place to explore].

I always find it interesting with new technologies how people describe them to other people.  Mathieu described it as essentially publishing a raw database of data onto the web as RDF with the data being addressable using a URI and talked of creating ‘a very big distributed dataspace’  That’s certainly something that is well-illustrated by the ‘traditional’ linked data cloud image (without which no linked data presentation is complete).  From more of a library perspective Owen used the example of Charlotte Bronte as the creator of Jane Eyre as an illustration of the subject, object and predicate ‘triple’.

Libraries and Linked Data
What has been particularly interesting from a library point of view is the way that linked data allows systems to extract data in new ways.  So for example, publishing course materials in RDF format has allowed queries to be created that make it possible to list all courses available in a particular country, something you can’t easily do from current websites.  And you start to see all kinds of possibilities for libraries and search systems.  You are potentially less constrained in having to decide in advance what type of queries users can make of your data.  I was interested in a comment made by Mathieu that the art of expoiting linked data was to build many small applications rather than a few big applications. 

Also last month there was the news that Archives Hub through the LOCAH project have released some of their content as linked data as a proof of concept.   So it seems to me that we are at an early stage for libraries in thinking about how Linked Data can be of use.  Certainly for us one of the things we have to think about is does it mean that we need to start to change our cataloguing practice.  It’s clear that the way we catalogue isn’t ideal if we want to convert our catalogue data to Linked Data. 

The process to decide on how you are going to express your data as Linked Data is quite a time-consuming one and a process that is very much an on-the-fly activity. Which I think is where libraries may start to feel a bit uncomfortable, without the safety net of some clear frameworks. 

I think we’ve a way to go before this type of activity starts to be commonplace, and maybe we need some tools that help us to present our resources in Linked Data more easily.  I think the analogy is obviously the early days of the web when the first website swe built were with raw html.  But it wasn’t long until tools came along such as Frontpage and Dreamweaver that meant you could build sites without knowing too much html. 

But I still think that there is massive potential within  the Linked Data world and libraries need to engage with it and start to build prototypes that can show the benefits.  Certainly I’m hopeful that we’ll have the chance to do some further work in this area with our Digital Library.