New Series: Hot Topics in Libraries

Introducing a new blog series on the NYLA NMES Communications Blog, we’ll feature a hot topics in libraries. These topics will be of interest to new members in particular.

This month’s highlight is on Linked Data.

What is Linked Data

Linked Data is one of the hottest buzzwords in the data world in recent years.

Based on W3C’s definition, Linked Data is about using Semantic Web technologies, including RDF, OWL, SKOS, SPARQL, etc. to expose datasets themselves as well as relationship between these datasets. As the founder of the concept Linked Data, Sir Tim Berners-Lee defines four fundamental principles of Linked Data which were commonly accepted later, namely:

1. Use URIs as names for things.

2. Use HTTP URIs so that people can look up those names.

3. When someone looks up a URI, provide useful information, using the standards (RDF*, SPARQL).

4. Include links to other URIs, so that they can discover more things.

Why the library world (should) care about Linked Data

The importance of data to librarianship cannot be more emphasized. Libraries used to be the gate of all human knowledge. Even though we are no longer the only source of knowledge in our society, the fact that “Libraries are currently largely isolated in terms of data exchange, since data is primarily collected by libraries for libraries” as pointed by Jan Hannemann and Jürgen Kett, is still a serious problem for librarianship.

In a presentation given in 2011, Eric Miller pointed the needs for all the libraries to weave themselves into the web by adopting the current web technologies, so that they can work with different groups at the same time in terms of data exchange, which will help to establish a broader foundation of librarianship. Like Eric Miller, many people see Linked Data as a chance for libraries to use their unique and high-quality data to make a bigger contribution to a larger data community.

Moreover, Gillian Bryne and Lisa Goddard identifies three benefits Linked Data model can bring to the library in terms of management and service, namely, decision making processes can be better facilitated after adopting a single data “format”; interoperability and integration of different systems can be greatly improved; and, offering better searching methods.

The library community has been one of the most enthusiastic players in the Linked Data movement. Datasets published by libraries (including OCLC, Library of Congress, British Library and some other national libraries around the world) are a major components in the Open Linked Data project.  Library of Congress also started Bibliographic Framework Transition Initiative in 2011, which aims to replace MARC format with a new model that is based on Semantic Web principles.

Why librarians should care about Linked Data

From a professional perspective, I want to propose two reasons why librarians should care about Linked Data movement (even when one is not a metadata librarian or a system librarian).

First of all, librarianship is about lifelong learning. We should not only help our members become lifelong learners; we should always learn new things ourselves. Linked Data is important for our profession. Moreover, the model is also a great way to form a better understanding of the world. There are great values for librarians to know about Linked Data model or Resource Description Framework (RDF).

Second, Linked Data is also a great way to build one’s brand, making one’s information more visible on the Internet. For example, librarians can create an FOAF (Friend-of-a-Friend) document and publish it online so that their information can be better exposed to searching engines, thus their information can be easily found and consumed by either computers or human users.

How to publish an FOAF document

FOAF project is not a Linked Data project in nature, but it can be seen as a lightweight and easy-to-start Linked Data application.

One can use this simple generator to produce an FOAF document about him/herself, and publish the file on one’s website or blog. One can follow this guidance to add a <link> tag in the original HTML code if possible, which will make it easier for the FOAF document to be discovered.  Even though it’s always easier to personalize the code in Drupal or self-hosted WordPress websites, it’s still very easy to add this tag in WordPress blog or Blogger.

This post was written by Kai Li. Kai Li is a second year library science student in Syracuse University. He was a cataloger in the past, and is now interested in metadata and innovations in the library community. You can contact him at or @nalsi to talk to me.

**If you’d like to suggest topics, or write one, please email** Thanks!!