We're not waiting for the ILS to change

Posted on Fri 21 February 2014 in misc

Over at the Metadata Matters blog, Diane Hillman wrote Why Are We Waiting for the ILS to Change?, asking (in the context of the difficulties libraries experience in making their systems work with RDA):

What I saw underlying that conversation was the assumption that the only way change could happen was if the ILS’s themselves changed; in other words if the ILS vendors decided to lead rather than follow. The situation now is that system vendors say they’ll build RDA compliant systems when their customers ask for them, and libraries say that they’ll use ‘real’ RDA when there are systems that can support it. This is a dance of death, and nobody wins.

I took this as a jumping-off point to discuss the state of linked data support in library systems and discovery software and posted the following comment (currently awaiting moderation):

Who's waiting? Sweden's LIBRIS took essentially the approach you suggested back in 2007, and Bibliothèque Nationale de France and Deutsche Nationalbibliothek have also followed similar paths.
On the smaller-scale, traditional library "integrated" side of things Evergreen and Koha, and on the "disintegrated discovery layer" side VuFind and Blacklight, have integrated RDFa or microdata to publish structured data using schema.org. Here's hoping these open source systems can spur the proprietary alternatives to start competing and doing better.
Ross Singer mentioned that Capita Prism offers linked data in N3 / Turtle / RDF/XML / JSON from record details pages like http://capitadiscovery.co.uk/surrey-ac/items/1173856, so happily there is at least one proprietary catalogue in the smaller-scale library space doing work in this field.

Jumping from RDA to linked data might be a bit of a stretch, but the lack of movement by proprietary vendors in particular hit a sore point that I developed during some of our early W3 Schema.org Bibliographic Extension Community Group discussions. I had asked if anyone else was trying to actually implement what we were discussing. A response from one of the proprietary software representatives was "No, we're waiting to see what develops..." -- which is exactly the attitude that leads to the "dance of death" that Diane described. It can also lead to decisions that are suboptimal, ambiguous, or unimplementable because nobody actually tried to put theory into practice.

Thankfully, a small investment of effort into modifying open source systems to serve as reference implementations can provide a significant amount of insight into flaws or possibilities with otherwise theoretical directions, as well as delivering practical benefits to everyone who uses that software if those modifications are accepted by the parent projects. Here's hoping that the more agile options like Koha, Evergreen, VuFind, and Blacklight continue to push the evolution of their proprietary competitors.