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Re: Open Library and RDF

From: Karen Coyle <kcoyle@kcoyle.net>
Date: Sun, 15 Aug 2010 17:10:29 -0700
Message-ID: <20100815171029.dldh5ol68ow4scwk@kcoyle.net>
To: Thomas Baker <tbaker@tbaker.de>
Cc: "gordon@gordondunsire.com" <gordon@gordondunsire.com>, "Young,Jeff (OR)" <jyoung@oclc.org>, public-lld@w3.org
Quoting Thomas Baker <tbaker@tbaker.de>:

  the labeling of constructs
>     with "English-like" mnemonics naturally will lead to the use of
>     a knowledge representation language by actual users that varies
>     from what its designers intended.  In decentralized systems
>     like the Semantic Web, this problem is naturally exacerbated.
> This suggests that it might be wiser, especially with a
> relatively untested language such as FRBR, to follow the
> principle of minimal ontological commitment [2]:


While these statements are quite reasonable, they don't apply well to  
the actual practices of the library community. There is no 'wild' of  
library metadata, no users taking it in different directions for their  
own purposes, no re-interpretation by creative souls. There is little  
creation of metadata outside of standards-based library systems, which  
are expressly required to enforce the standards, and which will only  
accept data that meets the standards.

This is not some rut that libraries are in, but is an essential part  
of their functioning. There are huge centralized systems for sharing  
data among libraries (OCLC, NACO, VIAF) that necessitate that  
practices must be as uniform as possible across a wide number of  
institutions. The maximal ontological commitment definitely furthers  
the sharing, and may be essential for it. In fact, libraries today are  
organized in highly complex networks of data sharing that they depend  
on for their survival in this difficult economic climate. Although it  
is a bit of an exaggeration, I often say that libraries have achieved  
an amazing efficiency -- that a book is published, then cataloged and  
the data keyed once (usually by the relevant national library), and  
every other library downloads that data into their catalog. There is  
much more metadata re-use than metadata creation.

Some of the criticisms of RDA is that it is not as strict a set of  
cataloging rules as those that have gone before it, allowing  
catalogers to make decisions on their own rather than prescribing a  
precise solution for each situation. That said, library cataloging is  
still very prescriptive. And I believe it will remain that way, and  
for good reason (primarily the ability to catalog cooperatively over  
many thousands of libraries, without which libraries as we know them  
today would collapse under the weight of the cataloging burden).

I think we must start with that as our reality, and look at ways to  
integrate library metadata into a wider universe without losing the  
underlying precision of that data as it exists in library systems.  
Linked data has a great deal to offer the library community in its  
pursuit of better discovery for its users. This linked data will be  
library standards-based data that is highly refined and that is shared  
among libraries. That to me is a first goal: a shared web of library  
data, by libraries, for library users.

A second goal is to increase the interaction of library data with  
other resources on the Web. This is one of the reasons why the  
Metadata Registry created a hierarchy of properties, the highest level  
of which are not bound by the FRBR entities. This allows data to be  
exchanged without regard to strict FRBR definitions. The resulting  
metadata, however, will still be more detailed than is desired (or  
even understood) by non-library communities. Therefore I think we need  
to work on defining classes and properties that can be used to  
integrate library data to non-library, non-specialist resources and  
services. FRBR and RDA jump right into the level of detail that the  
library community relates to without looking at how those details  
might fit into a larger picture. We need to work on developing that  

What this all comes down to is that if we take the view that library  
metadata must embrace different principles than it does today in order  
for libraries to interact on the Web, then we've got a non-starter.  
Library data is precise, meets particular needs, is principles based,  
and is anything but arbitrary. It isn't perfect, to be sure, but its  
fundamentals are sound and, perhaps even more importantly, it forms  
the basis for the functioning of tens of thousands of institutions.  
That is our starting point.


>     An ontology should require the minimal ontological commitment
>     sufficient to support the intended knowledge sharing
>     activities. An ontology should make as few claims as possible
>     about the world being modeled, allowing the parties committed
>     to the ontology freedom to specialize and instantiate the
>     ontology as needed. Since ontological commitment is based on
>     consistent use of vocabulary, ontological commitment can be
>     minimized by specifying the weakest theory (allowing the most
>     models) and defining only those terms that are essential to
>     the communication of knowledge consistent with that theory.
> I take you to be saying that the official "strong" view
> reflects a specialized view of one part of the community.
> Do the FR and RDA committees anticipate that the vocabularies
> will only be used by (and of interest to) bibliographic
> experts with MLS degrees?  Do they not anticipate that
> commercial companies, government agencies, or other types of
> organizations might want to embrace FRBR concepts and adapt
> them to their needs?  Raising the bar ontologically would
> help ensure that their use is limited to controlled contexts
> (or at any rate used incorrectly outside those contexts).
> Or is that perhaps the point?
> Tom
> [1] http://events.linkeddata.org/ldow2010/papers/ldow2010_paper09.pdf
> [2] Gruber, Thomas. 1995. Toward Principles for the Design of
>     Ontologies Used for Knowledge Sharing. International
>     Journal Human-Computer Studies 43(5-6): 907-928.
> --
> Thomas Baker <tbaker@tbaker.de>

Karen Coyle
kcoyle@kcoyle.net http://kcoyle.net
ph: 1-510-540-7596
m: 1-510-435-8234
skype: kcoylenet
Received on Monday, 16 August 2010 00:11:13 UTC

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