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Linked Open Data: A Beckoning Paradise

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The following is a guest post by Gloria Gonzalez, a 2011 Junior Fellow working with NDIIPP.

Imagine an internet where every single webpage interconnects to other related information. While browsing a site about the history of the United States, for example, you could see digital versions of the documents that established it–with the click of a button. Or, while reading an article on an academic journal website, you could select a link that led to the primary sources or data collections used by the author. Wouldn’t it be useful to discover so much more information, without having to search for it? Tim Berners-Lee: The World Wide Web - Opportunity, Challenge, Responsibility, by Fräulein Schiller, on Flickr

This hypothetical internet would not only be an online researcher’s paradise; it would also drastically change how we all access information.

Luckily for us, such an internet is not only possible, but is slowly being created as you read this. How? Through the use of Linked Open Data, which gives us the ability to make the internet vastly more interconnected and interoperable.

If you’ve never heard of LOD, don’t worry. Two weeks ago, I myself didn’t know what it was. Since then, I’ve learned quite a bit about the topic while working for NDIIPP, and I’ve found the topic to be fascinating, which is why this is the first in a series of posts about LOD that I’ll be writing for The Signal.

The basic intent of LOD is to make information on the internet more discoverable.  It is an approach to publishing information according to standards that facilitate linkages between different information resources, such as web pages and datasets. Linked Data creates relationships between different sets of information by using Uniform Resource Identifiers (which is a fancy way to say web addresses, a.k.a. URLs) as distinct identifiers for information resources.

The “Open” in LOD is essential because the goal is to promote broad use of and access to information by libraries, archives, museums, governments–everybody!  When you have a vast amount of these linkages, the internet becomes truly web-like, with each site having significant relationships with other information resources.

W3C SWEO Linking Open Data community project: Partial view of interlinked Datasets
W3C SWEO Linking Open Data community project: Partial view of interlinked Datasets

Despite the great benefits it would provide, there are many hurdles to leap over before the internet is based on LOD relationships.  We are, in fact, far from the ideal interconnected online researcher’s paradise I asked you to imagine above.

Problems we must tackle before reaching paradise include the large amount of information on the internet; format diversity; and most importantly, legal issues of data ownership. Professionals in the library and information science field are addressing all of these issues with initiatives like the W3C SWEO Linking Open Data community project and the International Linked Open Data in Libraries Archives and Museums Summit, which took place just a few weeks ago.

We have a vast amount of information on the internet, but we are missing the relationships needed to reach, discover and use this information to its fullest potential. Cultural heritage institutions and gatekeepers of knowledge are looking to provide open, linked data and help to build a better internet. Ed Summers, an Information Technology Specialist for the Office of Strategic Initiatives here at the Library maintains, “Linking makes the provenance of the items explicit, which will continue to be important to researchers on the Web. But perhaps more importantly it gives institutions a reason to participate in the project as a whole.”

As you may have noticed, this post includes Linked Data that will lead you to some of the resources I’ve used to learn about LOD, so if you are interested just follow the links! My future posts on this topic will include interviews with Ed Summers and other professionals here at the Library who are interested in and work with LOD.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions about LOD, please comment!

Comments (8)

  1. What about multilingual LOD?

    At least english-spanish LOD.

    Not everybody in the world talk english.

    Thanks for the post, it’s very good, but I’m spanish and I can’t help to think about my language and all the people who talk spanish or another language and don’t talk english

  2. Hi Lucia.

    There is quite a bit of interest in Linked Data in Europe, specifically in the Europeana project Europeana are making contributions from the Hispana project available as Linked Data, which you can download from

    You also might be interested in the data and services that CTIC make available ; Red temática española de Linked Data and La Asociación Española de Linked Data (AELID)

    Just a few pointers. I hope they help!

  3. While working with Canadian colleagues on the history of the Joint Canadian United States Arctic Weather Stations (JAWS) Arctic sovereignty subject has been presented, linked Arctic data would be of enormous help for research purposes.

  4. As you mentioned in your post, the most significant obstacle would be the charges associated with accessing commercially produced resources such as academic or news journals. This seems like it would be less of a problem within universities and their libraries as many already subscribe to many of these services. So, is LOD intended for use primarily within university and larger public library systems? Also has there been any speculation on the need for some standard of subscription services for a comprehensive LOD network?

    • LOD can be used by anyone. The idea is to make data more easily discoverable. That doesn’t mean that all the data will be free, but the concepts behind LOD should make a variety of resources easier to find. Once discovered, users can decide which data is most appropriate for their purposes and resources.

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