June 26, 2018

Stanford Libraries awarded $4 Million grant to implement linked data metadata environment

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The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation continues initial investment in the library cataloging community’s shift to linked data for the creation and manipulation of their metadata.

Stanford, CA—A proposal to dramatically shift how libraries create metadata and greatly improve how users discover library holdings has been accepted and awarded to Stanford Libraries by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In partnership with the libraries of Cornell, Harvard and the University of Iowa, Stanford will lead the effort to integrate library data into the Web, in a semantic way, so it can be discovered intelligently in Web searches as well as in a library’s catalogue.

“By taking advantage of the semantic web, library users can directly benefit from other important data sources on the Web,” said Philip Schreur, Associate University Librarian for Technical Services at Stanford Libraries. “The Web is an international environment, by shifting to linked data, libraries worldwide can take advantage of the existing bibliographic and authoritative data many national libraries create and make available as linked data.”

The Mellon grant will allow Cornell, Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Iowa to implement a prototype environment, from metadata acquisition/creation through to discovery. An important enhancement in this round of funding will be collaborating with the Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC) and the Library of Congress to expand the number of libraries implementing linked data.

According to Schreur, the choice of working with the PCC was deliberate. “Within the United States, we work within the concept of a virtual, distributed ‘national library’ for the creation of high-level metadata, so PCC provides the community with a forum for the development of policy and training programs for member libraries, thereby expanding the success rate for transitioning to linked data among the broader academic library community,” Schreur adds.  

Since the 1960s, libraries have been following Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) standards for the communication of metadata about resources in their catalogues. MARC was considered revolutionary in its day, allowing data from library card catalogs to be encoded in machine readable form, enabling the catalog cards to be reproducible on the computer screen and the data to be exchanged freely among libraries. Originally designed for magnetic tape-based computers, the standards are now only understood by library systems. Failure to speak the language of the Web has isolated libraries from the broader world of information developing there.

“The work to be accomplished by the Linked Data team with our colleague institutions is dedicated to transformation for all libraries and ultimately for archives and museums as well.  It could not have been possible to initiate this journey without the support and encouragement of The Mellon Foundation,” said Michael Keller, university librarian at Stanford. 

According to Keller library users prefer and have been searching for information on the Web for decades. “What is being built would have been cost and resource prohibitive for individual libraries to build themselves and soon it will be made widely available and relatively easy for libraries anywhere to implement.  One result of this transformation will be vastly more nuanced discovery of resources for citizens, scholars, students, and public policy professionals in pursuit of their interests.”

Wide adoption of common linked data-based protocols across libraries of various sizes and budgets was an important element of the proposal for The Mellon Foundation. Part of the grant will include distribution of sub-grants by Stanford Libraries to PCC member libraries needing resources to support their transition process.

Over the course of two years, the grant team will dedicate efforts to achieve four goals: 1) enhanced discovery of library materials; 2) development of a cloud-based sandbox environment for the community to access, adopt and implement linked data; 3) creation of policies adopted across the academic library community that promotes best practices for transitioning to and implementing linked data; and 4) increased efficiency of workflows for metadata creation by pooling and leveraging data already developed and available by numerous national libraries around the globe. 

The tools developed will be open source and free for anyone to use, and through community engagement and development efforts, the grants team expects the linked data for libraries initiative will evolve as technical developments and trends unfold.

“This transitional movement is being developed for and by the academic library community in partnership with key library vendors,” said Schreur.  “By working with the entire academic information community in the development of a new ecosystem based in the semantic web, this movement becomes self-sustaining and can evolve along with the Web as it continues to morph over time.”