On Scholarship, or Why I Didn’t Write a Book on Linked Open Data This Past Winter Break

After a semester and a summer of research, 2 months of intense editing (including the entire re-framing of our our short paper), and about 15 LaTeX formatting snafus, I flew to North Carolina with a fellow SILS student to attend and present at my first ever conference. The paper we wrote addressed how linked open data could help to answer communication design problems for cultural heritage institutions. It was short and a little sweet – mostly it felt nice to share the hard work of librarians, archivists, programmers, data scientists and designers with new community of non GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) academics and industry innovators.

With a packed work/school/research/internship schedule for the past two years I’ve barely been able to have a chance to talk shop with non-librarians. At school, on the train, and sadly even at after-hours parties and meet-ups I live in wonderful(!) but foggy and close-knit world of acronyms, library jargon and (seriously) Marc21 tag puns. Which is why North Carolina was a welcome surprise! My writing partner and I were delighted to present our work and discover that user experience experts, industrial designers, educators and researchers found value in a library perspective. “Shh! The Librarians are speaking!” was one of my favorite quotes from our blurry and wonderful day, which was full of sharing and learning at the conference. After our presentation we discussed linked open data with our fellow conference goers and then to our surprise, we were offered the opportunity to write a short, web-published book on linked open data for communication design students.

Hearing this prospect was one of those overwhelming – My Face on a Wheaties Box – kind of moments that I think that people who play competitive sports must feel a lot. Linked open data is a project that I really want to see succeed, and it is also something that I deeply feel will be beneficial for the access and retrieval of cultural heritage materials. Shocked and very thankful, we explained that we needed to be in touch with our professor and mentor before we could begin planning.

We rode the whole way back to New York in awe, and agreed that we would have to do a lot of research before deciding if we could take up the offer. However, after some serious thought, a full literature review and a candid and helpful meeting with our professor we decided that we had to decline the offer. Our literature review showed that there weren’t any published articles or books on the subject (that we could locate during our research), and this was a topic we both felt would be beneficial to both the library and the digital humanities communities, and yet, we simply weren’t ready.

One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned in Grad School has been to understand what I don’t know. Knowing what I don’t know, exploring subjects and tools holistically has been a great road map for figuring out what to learn next and navigating through the many nesting and maze-like subjects that make up Library Information Science. During the fall we were ready to share a survey of linked open data projects, however we certainly weren’t ready to guide fellow students through the process of creating a linked open data project: we both understood what topics would need to be covered to walk readers through the process, however in order to do so we would need to be learning with them.

I still have my sketch of an outline that we worked together on, and over the past few months I have been devoting my time to gaining further understanding and practice in these tools and subjects. I’ve even worked with a small team of students to create a linked open data project on American Textiles. With ‘what I don’t know’ to guide me I’ve begun to explore applications for linked open data that weren’t on my radar four months ago, such as the Library of Congress’ Bibframe Initiative. Overall this offer has been an amazing learning experience and I hope to share what I’ve learned throughout the past two years in a way that can be constructive to my community and the communities that work with libraries and cultural heritage materials.

The text that we were offered to write is incredibly necessary for the field, and I deeply believe that there are linked open data specialists and metadata specialists who are ready to tackle this important project, quite frankly, it is something that I am excited to read! However as a library school student and a newbie in the field I am simply not qualified, and being qualified is something that, scholastically, I owed to both the field and the potential publishers. In the meantime I am incredibly thankful to the conference coordinators for the opportunity to present and write about linked open data and am excited to continue to learn and share about the prospects for linked open data in the field of digital humanities and cultural heritage institutions.

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