Stanford Libraries leads collaborative grant

Stanford Libraries leads collaborative grant to leverage linked data for enhanced access to information

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Stanford a $1.5 million grant to support library initiatives that develop and advance the use of linked open data. Stanford Libraries will coordinate a team representing Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Library of Congress and Princeton to upgrade the current infrastructure libraries use to create, store, and share bibliographic data.

Currently, libraries around the world rely on an information communication and storage standard that was first developed in the 1960s. Although the system revolutionized the industry, eliminating the dependence on card catalogs and moving libraries into an online environment, the development of the semantic web has created challenges to continued use of that system.  

The grant team will be developing a new, distributed model based on web architecture that, according to Philip Schreur, Assistant University Librarian for Technical and Access Services at Stanford, “will fundamentally change how libraries interact with the semantic web.”

According to Schreur, much information is either unavailable or unintelligible to the semantic web, including large amounts from libraries.  “Much of a library’s data has been locked in historic formats that do not allow for it to be connected to the Web,” said Schreur.  “Linked Data uses basic web standards to publish data so it can be interlinked and become discoverable on the Web.”

Efforts to improve the current system have been underway for some time, with individual libraries each investigating new approaches; this project allows for such developments to converge synergistically.  Stanford will drive the effort, developing the communal environment within which institutions can interact and providing the social construct for continual engagement and exchange of ideas.

Together, the six partners will explore new approaches to integrating research, from art works to historic films, hip hop to globes, from musical performances to philosopher’s annotations.

“The Mellon Foundation funded project will shift the focus from the presentation of library data that can only be understood by a human at a computer screen to data that a machine can understand and link semantically,” said Schreur. ”The door is opened to linking concepts and content across continents and centuries.”

Stanford is also a partner in a companion project based at Cornell University (Linked Data for Libraries-Labs) that seeks to develop new linked-data-based tools and methods to better describe libraries’ scholarly information resources. Although a separately funded project, the two will work in tandem to mutually advance each other’s goals.

Previous to this grant in 2014, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded a planning grant with the same partner libraries to define the issues to be resolved for libraries to shift their data production standards to be compatible with the semantic web. The current project will allow for the first concrete steps in this transition, leveraging accepted Web standards to make library and research data fully and globally discoverable on the sematic web.


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