Canonicals, and Spiders and URIs Oh My!

October 26, 2009 at 2:09 pm | Posted in NAHSL Annual Meeting 2009 | Leave a comment

The first plenary speaker this morning was Stewart Weibel, Senior Research Scientist for OCLC, who spoke on “Semantic Web Technologies: Changing Bibliographic Futures?”  After establishing the three connections he had with ME, (one of which involved a rocket ship made out of a lobster crate) he introduced the group to the concept of the semantic web, an approach to embed structure in web resources to facilitate the extraction of meaning by machines and people.  His visual diagramming of RDF (resource description framework) assertions and relating them to sentence structure helped to lay the groundwork for the topic.

His observations on Ontologies:

  • Medicine had a very good one due to the agreed upon terms and language
  • The challenge  is that they are usually run by organizations and with a shoe string budget
  • Controlled vocabularies don’t usually create a profit, the driver in business models

Stewart suggested that as Librarians we pay attention to Linked Data.  This is different than the historical linking of documents which the Web was initially built on.  URIs, or Uniform Resource Identifiers are used to name things and then HTTP is used to look up those names.  The goal is to identify things globally and then bring them together in a new form.

He suggested that a coherent identifier infrastructure is essential to establishing a rich and dynamic scaffolding of interconnected information resources to support ‘users and uses of bibliographic data’ . Broad dissemination of canonical (the right identifier), globally-scoped public identifiers serves the library collaborative and is the single most compelling means of making library assets visible on the web.

Oh yea, I bet you’re still wondering about the spiders.  Stewart, while contrasting the two metaphors of the web versus scaffolding,  talked about his early days in research and the effect that coffee and LSD had on spiders‘ ability to spin pretty looking webs.  Apparently that line of research quickly ran its course.

-Ed D.

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