What we need for linked data to work in a practical, production context for libraries

On Tuesday this week, I attended a meeting at the national library of Norway with representatives of the national library, the four major university libraries, BIBSYS and a colleague from Oslo public library. The topic for the meeting was: Oslo public library’s requirements of a national authority file*.

We largely talked about our needs: the most relevant thing for us is that we don’t need to create an infrastructure to maintain authorities ourselves; there is little point in being precious about this, our project benefits immensely if we spend less time on local solutions for things that can-and-should be solved at a national level. Working together with other data providers means that we all enjoy benefits though — Oslo public library is also an important provider of data for other libraries.

The things we need are few, but the specification involves some challenges:

  1. Read/write access to the authority file
  2. Linked data

For other users, it is important that the authorities are available in formats they use. In the context of Norway, this inevitably means (NOR)MARC-compatible data; we have no issues with this reality, however, we need linked data because our systems depend on it.

In order for the authority files to work in a production context, we need to be able to reliably dereference authorities directly without any further conversion. It is possible to create a system without a linked-data approach, but the system will not be usable for us beyond it being a source for information in our local authority file. We really don’t want to have to both create a local representation and interface with a national solution.

Our linked data requirements are that the HTTP-URIs are stable and dereferencing them provides some limited data about the authority and links to some other relevant resources. This isn’t a big ask, but it is a necessary one.

A central, co-ordinated resource for certain kinds of common data means that we can put more of our effort into our local data that provides support for our specific, local contexts. And it is these authorities that provide the backbone for all of our description.

* Note about this meeting

Firstly, if you’re not familiar with why Oslo public library would be the focus of such a meeting, I should reference our linked-data-based library system, which is set to replace the existing system in a couple of years.

Secondly, the meeting was held as part of a wider meeting to discuss the requirements that the four university libraries have regarding their plans for authorities in general and particularly in relation to linked data (three of the libraries work to some extent with linked data) and Bergen university library has been awarded funding together with BIBSYS to develop a longitudinally viable semantic representation of the national authority file; the fact that Oslo public library is also interested in linked data means that there are natural synergies.

Thirdly, there is a clear national mandate because the national authority file is created by the national library and provided by BIBSYS. As the largest public library in Norway with some 700,000 people in its catchment area, it is also natural that the national library should look to ensure that the relevant users are included in such a project.

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