DCMI 2014: schema.org holdings in open source library systems

Posted on Tue 14 October 2014 in Linked Open Data

My slides from DCMI 2014: schema.org in the wild: open source libraries++.

Last week I was at the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative 2014 conference, where Richard Wallis, Charles MacCathie Nevile and I were slated to present on schema.org and the work of the W3C Schema.org Bibliographic Extension Community Group (#schemabibex). As a first-timer at DCMI, I wasn't sure what kind of an audience to expect: there is a peer-reviewed papers track, and a series of sessions on a truly intimidating topic (RDF Application Profiles), but on the other hand our own topic was fairly basic. As it turned out, there was an invigoratingly mixed set of backgrounds present, and Eric Miller's opening keynote, which gave an oral history of the origins of DCMI and a look towards the future challenges for the organization, reassured me that I wasn't going to be out of my depth.

Special kudos to Eric for his analogy of the Web to a credit card, which offers both human-readable and machine-readable data. A nice, clean image!

Richard, Charles and I opted to structure our 1.5 hour session as a series of short talks followed by a long period of discussion. However, as often happens, the excitement of speaking in front of a room that drew so many attendees that we had to jam with more chairs led to that plan breaking down. I cut my own materials back to illustrating how one of my primary contributions to the #schemabibex effort--representing library holdings using schema.org's GoodRelations-based Product/Offer model--had been implemented in free software library systems, including Evergreen, Koha, and VuFind. I walked from a basic bibliographic record (represented as a Product), through to the associated borrowable items (represented as Offers with a price of $0.00, call numbers as SKUs, and barcodes as serialNumbers), that were offered by a specific Library with its own set of operating hours, address, and contact information... all published out of the box as RDFa in modern Evergreen systems.

I did stray a little to posit that the use case for schema.org is not and should not be limited to "search engine optimization", but that this very simple level of structured data could fairly easily form the basis of an API. In the rather limited discussion that we were able to hold at the end of the session (and encroaching on break time), Charles counselled that libraries shouldn't really bother with dumbing down their beautiful metadata simply to publish schema.org... while I countered that the pursuit of publishing beautiful metadata in the past has generally led librarians to publish no metadata at all, and that schema.org was a great first step towards building a web of cultural heritage metadata meant for machine consumption.

I wish I could have stayed longer at DCMI, but it was Thanksgiving in Canada and there were families to visit and feast with--not to mention children to help take car of--so I had to depart after just a day and a half. I'm encouraged by the steps the organization is taking to renew itself, and I hope to be able to participate again in the future.