On 02/02/2017 21:29, Karen Coyle wrote:
> My fave scenario for library linked data, the data flows in the 
> opposite direction. Look at how rich an author page is in WorldCat 
> Identities.[1] Look how rich it is in Wikipedia.[2] Look what Google 
> does when you search on an author's name and you get that nice box 
> that pulls from Wikipedia and other sources.[3] That's done with 
> linked data. Then do a search on an author in a library catalog. No 
> information beyond the author's name. A name is an identifier, not an 
> information source, and it doesn't tell users anything about the author.
> Linked data, to me, means being able to use resources on the net to 
> better serve library users. By connecting place names in library data 
> to the geonames database [4] you could show users those places on 
> maps. This ability already exists because even small sites on the web 
> often show you maps. It's not big tech to do this. You could give 
> author bios for at least some authors. Many books have a Wikipedia 
> page that has coded information included awards won and links to 
> reviews. All of this is available as linked data, but we aren't making 
> use of it.
> It also means being able to make easier use of many tools arriving on 
> the scene; better searching, visualization of data (put books on a 
> topic in a timeline), etc. You see some of this in WorldCat 
> Identities, in subject searches in the Open Library,[5] in the Agris 
> database[6]. Other communities are giving their users a rich 
> information experience, but we are not. We are not helping our users 
> understand what they've found. You get more information about a 
> refrigerator online that you do about a book in a library catalog. 
> That's what has to change to bring users back to the library as an 
> information source.

I think this shows a basic difference of opinion. From my point of view, 
my life has been inundated with a flood of all kinds of information: ads 
for almost every product, both conceivable and inconceivable, 
"suggestions" for reading or watching, "other people liked...," or "your 
friends liked ..." or "information" popping up on my smartphone. I have 
had a belly-full of "information" and I am far from alone.

So, it shouldn't be a surprise that when someone mentions a tool, I 
immediately wonder how useful it *really* is. Take Worldcat Identities. 
This was a truly new idea: to mine the Worldcat database to find out new 
kinds of "information." There may be nothing wrong with it but we have 
to ask seriously: is it genuinely useful for people? To be honest, when 
it came out I was really impressed and I showed it to all kinds of 
people, from undergraduates to senior faculty. All agreed that it was 
pretty cool, but they couldn't even imagine how they could use it for 
anything. Nobody was interested in the information it provided: genres, 
the alternative names were bizarre, a publication timeline(?), most 
widely held books and so on, they saw no use in any of it. The links 
labeled "useful" they thought were not useful at all.

I thought the most useful, and most novel part of Worldcat Identities is 
the word cloud of subjects at the very bottom. I remember looking with 
someone at Taylor Swift's record, who I knew, and continue to know, very 
little about ( In the 
subject cloud at the bottom, I saw terms like "Ecology" 
"Environmentalism" "Utopian plays" that surprised me and I thought this 
would be interesting for someone. Strangely enough, nobody I showed 
Worldcat Identities to thought the subject word clouds were useful in 
any way at all. I figured this was because the concept of a "subject" is 
becoming increasingly strange among 21st century society. I still think 
they could be useful but perhaps my positive opinion just makes me an 

In any case, nobody except me--a librarian--was interested in actually 
using Worldcat Identities. That told me a lot.

The Agris database is another interesting point. It's pretty amazing how 
it searches all of these different sites and brings it all together, but 
we must ask: does a searcher of Agris, who is most probably an expert 
agronomist or skilled agricultural technician (among the main users of 
Agris) and is interested in this (random) record: "Intercropping Spring 
Wheat with Cereal Grains, Legumes, and Oilseeds Fails to Improve 
Productivity under Organic Management [2008]" 
need information from Wikipedia about "Field experimentation" 
"Intercropping" "Weed control"? Wouldn't they have already known the 
relatively elementary information found in Wikipedia? Do they need a map 
or chart from the World Bank or does it just get in the way? The Google 
related articles may be genuinely useful, I don't know. Only an 
agronomist could determine that and I am not an agronomist. In any case, 
I know that many users of Agris have complained about all of this 
extraneous information.

The point about adding maps. In a book chapter I wrote a few years ago 
(, I copied the 
entire "metadata record" for a Google Book and you can see quite clearly 
that it includes an interactive map (p. 197-198. Apologies that my 
finger covers up one of the page numbers!). It turns out that in the 
current iteration of the metadata page for this same book, the map is no 
longer there ( In 
fact, I haven't found any Google metadata records (i.e. "About this 
book" page) with maps. I assume this means that Google discovered no one 
was using the maps so they got rid of them. But we are supposed to 
believe that maps in a metadata record are exciting and useful.

The point of all of this is that I think librarians today must be *very, 
very careful* to introduce even more "information" to our users who are 
already in danger of drowning in the flood of information they currently 
find themselves in. People think our catalogs are too complicated as 
they are now! Why will adding even more make it easier for them? Allow 
me my skepticism.

Librarians, developers, IT people and administrators absolutely *cannot* 
be the ones to determine if what we are making is useful or not. Each 
group has far too much invested in it. There must be serious attempts to 
do honest "market testing" among the potential users of whatever is 
being made and marketers know that it is far from easy to get honest 
answers from people. Just because we can add something doesn't mean 
anyone will find it useful (such as Worldcat Identities) and it may 
clutter things up so much that the parts the catalog/finding aid is 
supposed to do gets lost, or at least becomes so difficult it irritates 
the searchers. Irritation is probably the most worrying of all: those 
are the people who will leave in an instant for something that is less 

I do believe that there are many things we could do to improve the 
public's experience of the catalog, which in turn would improve their 
experience of a library's collection, and some of those improvements 
could include things like linked data.

James Weinheimer [log in to unmask]
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