Saturday, 11 August 2012

Open Knowledge Foundation, Open Data and the Open Road

'Open Data' is a term that is frequently bandied about Library School and has begun to pop up pretty regularly on the news and in my professional magazines (Library Journal very kindly send me their publications completely unprompted, unrequested and unpaid).  It is one of those terms that sounds really simple but you are not entirely sure what it involves.  (If you want some clarification have a gander at the Open Data Handbook).

For the final project for my information policy class (IST 618 for the Syracuse iSchool initiated) I decided to go completely off syllabus and, instead of writing a paper on lobbying or institutional repositories, I researched the Open Bibliographic branch of the UK-based Open Knowledge Foundation (OKFN).  This turned into one of those projects that you pursue through personal interest rather than for the grade and I am sure that my paper does not represent the vast amount that I learned and now appreciate in this sector of non-profit work.

Open Knowledge Foundation

Some quick background on the OKFN - they "seek a world in which open knowledge is ubiquitous and routine – both online and offline. We promote open knowledge because of its potential to transform the world for the better."*  They are split up into working groups, which focus on different topics or geographical regions and under each of these there are various projects and tools.

I focused on the Open Bibliography working group and the work that they are pursuing using their own invention, BibServer, to open up data within the library and information profession.  This primarily involves JISC-funded projects in conjunction with the British Library and Cambridge University Library.  BibServer is an open-source bibliographic data server, which makes it easy to create and manage collections of bibliographic records such as reading lists, publication lists and even complete library catalogs.

Main features:
  • Create and manage bibliographic collections simply and easily
  • Import (and export) your collection from bibtex, MARC, RIS, BibJSON, RDF or other bibliogrpaphic formats in a matter of seconds
  • Browse collection via an elegant faceted interface
  • Embed the collection browser in other websites
  • Full RESTful API
  • Open-source and free to use
  • Hosted service available at**
If an institution or individual wishes to select what to make public from their collection then they can use the tool, BibSoup (some wonderful introdcutory videos here especially the one with Owl and Penguin).  This is a public-facing instance of the BibServer and allows you to find, manage and share bibliographies.  There is no attempt to normalise entries and so this is a different sort of bibliographical database to, say, RLUK or WorldCat.  BibSoup is the OKFN's "metaphor for an ocean of bibliographic records represented in BibJSON, and freely available in bulk for reuse."*** 

While the BibServer can be used by individuals for their own research work etc., I concentrated my research on the larger institution projects.  The JISC-funded open bibliography projects have focussed on the opening of bibliographic data (or data dumps) at the BL and CUL.  This means that collections of MARC records have been uploaded to the BibServer and made publicly available.

One of my main issues with this whole thing is the lack of advertising that takes place.  Had I not actively researched this organisation (a friend of mine works for them and so I knew enough to know that their work was relevant to mine) I would have had no idea not only about the Open Bibliography projects but also about gems such as Where Does My Money Go, Europe's Energy, Open Text Book and the Public Domain Review (currently having maintenance done, annoyingly).  The OKFN use their own website and social media presence to advertise these projects but if you are not already in their loop, you will find it hard to discover these projects.

I have not gone into all of the ins and outs of my research due to lack of space and the unwillingness to baffle you with tech to the extent that none of you return to my blog but I hope that this has whetted some appetites for the sterling work being done by libraries and information institutions to open their data.

wide open road
The Open Road

My time in the US is rapidly coming to an end.  I only have one more week in Syracuse before heading out onto the open road for a 10 day road trip taking in Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, Atlanta, Richmond, and Philadelphia.  I'm going to embrace the freedom, cramped driving conditions and stifling heat as I end my American adventure in style!


* Open Knowledge Foundation, Our vision.
** GitHub, okfn/bibserver.
*** BibServer, BibSoup, undated.  Retrieved from

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