Saturday, June 23, 2012

Europe and Library Linked Data

I have just returned from a conference on library linked data in Florence, Global Interoperability and Linked Data in Libraries.  The talks were fascinating and there is only a small amount that I can convey in a blog post, but I thought that a good way to start would be to highlight some differences I see in the European approach.

Cultural Heritage

The cultural timeline in Europe is on an entirely different scale from what we are used to in the US. Library of Congress's "Historical Newspapers" collection covers 1836-1922. At the museum of the synagog of Florence, the docent referred to an event in 1571 as "the first in modern times." We have history, but Europe has History. This means that there is a great emphasis on archives, manuscripts, and museums in all work done by cultural heritage organizations. At no time during the conference was there discussion of "STM" materials (that's Science, Technology, Medicine) other than a talk on Renaissance science, or scholarly communication, both of which are often on programs in the US. (See talks on linked data and the Vatican library and Linked Heritage.) Note also that the shared European culture database, Europeana, uses linked data, which encourages all contributors to also move in that direction.

National Libraries

Closely connected to the view of cultural heritage is the role of the national library. In many countries, if not most, the national library's primary role is to conserve the written heritage of the nation. This fact could be used for better data sharing; for example, each national library could have the responsibility for its subset of name authorities, and the name file could be 'in the cloud.' (See talk by Malmsten.) Ditto for the cataloging of modern publications.

Government Data

Led by various European Union initiatives there is currently a strong movement to make government data available. (Note: there is also an open government movement in the US, but it has less emphasis, as I see it, on the sharing aspects of releasing the data.) Government data from the member countries is needed to make possible the analyses needed for Europe-wide programs. Since this data must be shared and linked, providing it as linked data makes perfect sense.(See:, a catalog of government data catalogs, talks by Morando, Moriando, Menduni. )

Rights and licenses

As countries decide to make their government data open, they must decide about rights, in particular data ownership. The European Union has recommendations for data rights, and individual countries are developing licenses that will be used for their released data. Because libraries are often government-funded institutions, these licenses will also apply to library data. This is not always a good thing. Some countries have declared government data on an open license, but others, like UK, Italy, and France, are using a license similar to CC-BY. The reasons for this have to do with the need to maintain provenance of government data since that data often has an official role in decision-making. (I wonder if the addition of provenance to linked data will help, and that makes me wonder about provenance "spoofing" and how much of a problem that will be.) (See talk by Morando.)

International Standards

People talk about how insular countries like China and North Korea are, but I become deeply aware of how insular we are in the US when I attend meetings outside of this country. We are beginning here (finally) to pay more attention to the global network of libraries, but Europe follows IFLA standards "religiously," as well as EU standards for data sharing. The Web of Data as a global resource makes even more sense in the European context. This makes me wish I knew more about the remainder of the globe. 

My talk at the conference is here: English, italiano.

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