A Linked Data Journey: Beyond the Honeymoon Phase


Image courtesy of Grant MacDonald under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.


I feel that this series is becoming a little long in the tooth. As such, this will be my last post in the series. This series will be aggregated under the following tag: linked data journey.

After spending a good amount of time playing with RDF technologies, reading authoritative literature, and engaging with other linked data professionals and enthusiasts, I have come to the conclusion that linked data, as with any other technology, isn’t perfect. The honeymoon phase is over! In this post I hope to present a high-level, pragmatic assessment of linked data. I will begin by detailing the main strengths of RDF technologies. Next I will note some of the primary challenges that come with RDF. Finally, I will give my thoughts on how the Library/Archives/Museum (LAM) community should move forward to make Linked Open Data a reality in our environment.


Modularity. Modularity is a huge advantage RDF modeling has over modeling in other technologies such as XML, relational databases, etc. First, you’re not bound to a single vocabulary, such as Dublin Core, meaning you can describe a single resource using multiple descriptive standards (Dublin Core, MODS, Bibframe). Second, you can extend existing vocabularies. Maybe Dublin Core is perfect for your needs, except you need a more specific “date”. Well, you can create a more specific “date” term and assign it as a sub-property of DC:date. Third, you can say anything about anything: RDF is self-describing. This means that not only can you describe resources, you can describe existing and new vocabularies, as well as create complex versioning data for vocabularies and controlled terms (see this ASIST webinar). Finally, with SPARQL and reasoning, you can perform metadata cross-walking from one vocabulary to another without the need for technologies such as XSLT. Of course, this approach has its limits (e.g. you can’t cross-walk a broader term to a specific term).

Linking. Linking data is the biggest selling point of RDF. The ability to link data is great for the LAM community, because we’re able to link our respective institutions’ data together without the need for cross-referencing. Eventually, when there’s enough linked data in the LAM community, it will be a way for us to link our data together across institutions, forming a web of knowledge.


Identifiers. Unique Resource Identifiers (URIs) are double-edged swords when it comes to RDF. URIs help us uniquely identify every resource we describe, making it possible to link resources together. They also make it much less complicated to aggregate data from multiple data providers. However, creating a URI for every resource and maintaining stables URIs (which I think will be a requirement if we’re going to pull this off) can be cumbersome for a data provider, as well as rather costly.

Duplication. Continue reading A Linked Data Journey: Beyond the Honeymoon Phase

Creating a Technology Needs Pyramid

Technology Training in Libraries” by Sarah Houghton has become my bible. It was published as part of LITA’s Tech Set series back in 2010 and acts as a no-nonsense guide to technology training for librarians. Before I started my current position, implementing a technology training model seemed easy enough, but I’ve found that there are many layers, including (but certainly not limited to) things like curriculum development, scheduling, learning styles, generational differences, staff buy-in, and assessment. It’s a prickly pear and one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as a professional librarian.

After several months of training attempts I took a step back after finding inspiration in the bible. In her chapter on planning, Houghton discusses the idea of developing a Technology Needs Pyramid similar to the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs (originally proposed by Aaron Schmidt on the Walking Paper blog). Necessary skills and competencies make up the base and more idealistic areas of interest are at the top. Most of my research has pointed me towards creating a list of competencies, but the pyramid was much more appealing to a visual thinker like me.

In order to construct a pyramid for the Reference Services department, we held a brainstorming session where I asked my co-workers what they feel they need to know to work at the reference desk, followed by what they want to learn. At Houghton’s suggestion, I also bribed them with treats. The results were a mix of topics (things like data visualization and digital mapping) paired with specific software (Outlook, Excel, Photoshop).brainstorm

Once we had a list I created four levels for our pyramid. “Need to Know” is at the bottom and “Want to Learn” is at the top, with a mix of both in between. I hope that this pyramid will act as a guideline for our department, but more than anything it will act as a guide for me going forward. I’ve already printed it and pinned it to my bulletin board as a friendly daily reminder of what my department needs and what they’re curious about. While I’d like to recommend the Technology Needs Pyramid to everyone, I don’t have the results just yet! I look forward to sharing our progress as we rework our technology plan. In the meantime I can tell you that whether it’s a list, graphic, or narrative; collecting (and demanding) feedback from your colleagues is vital. It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely worth the cost of a dozen donuts.Digital Scholarship Lab-01

Top Strategies to Win that Technology Grant: Part 1

Do you remember the time when you needed to write your first research paper in MLA or APA format?  The long list of guidelines, including properly formed in-text citations and a References or Works Cited page, seemed like learning a new language.  The same holds true when approaching an RFP (Request for Proposal) and writing a grant proposal.  Unfortunately with grants, most of us are in the dark without guidance.  I am here to say, don’t give up.

Get Familiar with the Grant Writing Process and Terms
Take free online courses, such as the ones offered by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine Grants and Proposal Writing course (Note: you do not have to be a medical librarian to take advantage of this free course) or WebJunction’s archived webinar – Winning Library Grants presented by Stephanie Gerding. Read a few books from the American Library Association (ALA).  Browse the list below.  This is a sure way to begin to demystify the topic.


Change the Free Money, Shopping Spree Thinking
I have failed at grant writing many times because I started writing a list of “toys” I wanted.  I would begin browsing stores online and pictured awesome technology I wanted.  Surely my patrons would enjoy them too.  I never thought, will my patrons need this technology?  Will they use it?  As MacKellar & Gerding state in their books, funders want to help people.  Learning about the community you serve is step one before you start your shopping list or even writing your grant proposal.

Write Your Proposal in Non-Expert, Jargon-Free, Lay Language
Some professionals may have the tendency, as they excitedly share their project, to go into tech vocabulary.  This is a sure way to lose some of the grant planning or awarding committee members who may not be familiar with tech terms or a particular area of technology.  Be mindful of the words you use to explain your technology needs.  The main goal of a proposal is to make all parties feel included and a part of the game plan.

Start Small and Form Partnerships
To remove the daunting feeling you may have of writing a proposal, find community partners or colleagues that can assist in making the process enjoyable.  For example, a library can participate in grant proposals spawned by others. What better way to represent our profession than to become the researcher for a grant group.  Research is our secret weapon.  The master researcher for the grant may add some items that help fund library equipment, staff, or materials in support of the project request.  It may not be a grant proposal from the library, but a component may help the library in support of that initiative.  Another idea is to divide the grant proposal process into sections or phases among staff members.  As you know, each of us have strengths that fit into a phase of a grant proposal.  Tap into those strengths and divide the work needed to get that funding.

Create SMART Outcomes and Objectives
Ensure that outcomes and objectives are SMART, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound.  How will you know if the project is succeeding or has been a success?  Also, it is helpful to see how your technology grant request correlates with your library’s and/or institution’s technology plan.

Grants are a great way to receive recognition from peers, administration, and the community you serve.  For those in academia, this is a wonderful way to grow as a professional, add to your curriculum vitae and collect evidence towards a future promotion.  It can even become enjoyable.  Once you mastered writing MLA or APA papers, didn’t you want to write more papers?  Come to think of it, forget about my research paper and grant writing analogy.

Find future posts on technology grant writing tips on our LITA blog.

Begin Transmission #1

Welcome to the new LITA Vlog series, Begin Transmission. Every two weeks your host (that’s me) will sit down with a guest to talk about libraries, tech, the state of the profession, and their thoughts on LITA.

Begin Transmission will provide another channel for you to learn from your fellow LITA members. I hope you’ll enjoy this first episode, featuring LITA Blogger Marlon Hernandez. When he’s not writing seriously interesting posts for the blog, he’s working for NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. He has a truly unique perspective on the profession.

Look for our next transmission dropping here on the LITA Blog on Monday, April 18th.

Look who’s talking: Conducting a needs assessment project to inform your service design

If you can’t tell, I’m on a research data services kick of late, mostly because we’re in the throes of trying to define our service model and move some of our initiatives forward all while building new partnerships.

What I didn’t mention in my previous post is all the lead-up work we’re doing to lay the groundwork for those awesome services I discussed. And there is quite a bit to do in that regard, so I thought it would be helpful to provide some tips on what you can do to set the stage for a successful launch of these types of services. Here goes!

If you have a specific population/audience in mind for your services, getting feedback from them is essential. This can take many forms, although we tend to rely on the tried and true (and often dreaded survey). Which is great if you want to collect a high amount of data that may or may not lead to follow-up questions. But what if you want to do something a little different?

Continue reading Look who’s talking: Conducting a needs assessment project to inform your service design

LITA Updates, March 11, 2016

In this issue of LITA Updates

  • Hello from Your New Executive Director, Jenny Levine
  • 2016 Election runs March 15 – April 22
  • LITA at ALA Annual (Hear Dr. Safiya Noble Speak at our President’s Program)
  • Meet LITA Emerging Leader Melissa Stoner
  • Current Online Learning Opportunities
  • New #LITAchats on Twitter

SAVE THE DATE: This year’s LITA Forum will be November 17-20 in Fort Worth, Texas! More information coming soon.

jenny levine - small
Jenny Levine

Hello from Your New Executive Director

Just a quick wave to introduce myself as the still-feeling-very-new Executive Director of LITA. I started in August and while I’m still learning the ins and outs of our community, my favorite things are feedback and suggestions. If you have either of these, please don’t hesitate to contact me in whatever way works best for you.

jlevine@ala.org; w: 312-280-4267; m/sms: 708-955-4967
Hangouts: shiftedlibrarian; Twitter: @shifted
Read my How I Work post on LITA Blog

2016 Election LITA homepage graphic - medium

Watch your email next week for your ballot, and help shape the future of LITA by voting in the 2016 election. Online voting will be open March 15 – April 22, with results announced on April 29. Find out more about the LITA and ALA elections on our website.

Candidates for LITA Offices

ALA Candidates who are LITA members

  • Presidential candidate
    • Christine Lind Hage
  • Council candidates
    • Robert Banks
    • Ana Elisa de Campos Salles
    • Mario M. Gonzalez
    • Mel Gooch
    • Jennifer Rushton Jamison
    • Chulin Meng
    • Kathryn Miller
    • Scott Piepenburg
    • Lauren Pressley
    • Colby Mariva Riggs
    • Edward L. Sanchez
    • Jules Shore

alaac16 banner 2

We’re excited to announce that Dr. Safiya Noble is our 2016 President’s Program speaker. We also have three practical preconferences at Annual covering Digital Privacy and Security, Islandora for Managers, and Technology Tools and Transforming Librarianship, plus 20 programs including the always valuable Top Tech Trends program.

Learn more about all of the LITA happenings at Annual 2016 (early bird registration for the conference closes at noon Central Time on Tuesday, March 16th).

Meet LITA Emerging Leader Melissa Stoner

Melissa Stoner
Melissa Stoner

Have you met Melissa Stoner yet? If not, this is a great time to read her interview on LITA Blog because she’s our 2016 Emerging Leader.

Melissa works at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with the Lied Library Digital Collections, where she is the Workflow Manager for the Nevada Digital Newspaper Project. “I am Navajo and lived in Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Nation until I was 24…. I hope that in some way my being an Emerging Leader could inspire others from a similar background.”

Melissa is working with three other Emerging Leaders to develop an archiving program for the Map and Geospatial Information Round Table (MAGIRT). Her project, along with the others from this year’s cohort, will be presented at a Poster Session at the ALA Annual Conference on Friday, June 24, in Orlando, FL.

Current Online Learning Opportunities

The Why and How of HTTPS for Libraries (webinar)
Presenter: Jacob Hoffman-Andrews
Offered: March 14, 2016

Yes, You Can Video: A how-to guide for creating high-impact instructional videos without tearing your hair out (repeat) (webinar)
Presenters: Anne Burke and Andreas Orphanides
Offered: April 12, 2016

Universal Design for Libraries and Librarians (online course)
Presenters: Jessica Olin and Holly Mabry
Offered: August 1 – September 9, 2016

We’ll be adding more spring opportunities on our website.

Newest LITA Guide

Digitizing Flat Media - smallDigitizing Flat Media: Principles and Practices
by Joy M. Perrin

LITA members can use code RLLITA20 to receive a 20% discount.

New #LITAchats on Twitter

The Membership Development Committee has started hosting tech topic tweet-ups using #LITAchat and hosted by LITA experts, IGs, and Committees. The online chats will happen on the last Friday of each month around lunch time. Keep an eye on @ALA_LITA for announcements of future topics or search #LITAchat to see previous chats & topics.

Recent Posts on the LITA Blog

I’m a Librarian. Of tech, not books.
“Looking back, I wonder what would I have wanted to know before going into Systems, and most importantly, would it have changed my decision to do so, or rather, to stay? So what is it to be a Systems Librarian?…”

Google Cardboard
“The low cost, minimal learning curve, and interactivity of Cardboard make it the perfect tool to engage your library patrons.”

10 iPhone Tricks Every Librarian Should Know
“We can’t be expected to know everything about every device, but it’s always good to have a few tools ready at our disposal. Here are some handy tricks to keep at the ready if anyone comes at you with an iPhone and demands service.”

Thanks for reading, and please contact me anytime with questions, suggestions, or concerns.

Jenny Levine
Executive Director
Library and Information Technology Association (LITA)

I’m a Librarian. Of tech, not books.

Image from http://www.systemslibrarian.co.za/
Image from http://www.systemslibrarian.co.za/

When someone finds out I’m a librarian, they automatically think I know everything there is to know about, well, books. The thing is, I don’t. I got into libraries because of the technology. My career in libraries started with the take off, a supposed library replacement, of ebooks. Factor in the Google “scare” and librar*s  were going to be done forever. Librar*s were frantic to debunk that they were no longer going to be useful, insert perfect time and opportunity to join libraries and technology.

I am a Systems Librarian and the most common and loaded question I get from non-librarians is (in 2 parts), “What does that mean? and What do you do?” Usually this resorts to a very simple response:
I maintain the system the library sits on, the one that gives you access to the collection from your computer in the comfort of your home. This tool, that lets you view the collection online and borrow books and access databases and all sorts of resources from your pajamas, my job is to make sure that keeps running the way we need it to so you have the access you want.
My response aims to give a physical picture about a technical thing. There is so much we do as systems librarians that if I were to get in-deep with what I do, we’d be there for a while. Between you and I, I don’t care to talk *that* much, but maybe I should.

There’s a lot more to being a Systems Librarian, much of which is unspoken and you don’t know about it until you’re in the throws of being a systems librarian. There was a Twitter conversation prompted when a Twitter’er asked for recommendations on things to teach or include in on the job training for someone who is interested in library systems. It got me thinking, because I knew little to nothing about being a Systems Librarian and just happened upon it (Systems Librarianship) because the job description sounded really interesting and I was already a little bit qualified. It also allowed me to build a skill set that provided me a gateway out of libraries if and when the time arrived. Looking back, I wonder what would I have wanted to know before going into Systems, and most importantly, would it have changed my decision to do so, or rather, to stay? So what is it to be a Systems Librarian?

The unique breed: A Systems Librarian:

  • makes sure users can virtually access a comprehensive list of the library’s collection
  • makes sure library staff can continue to maintain that ever-growing collection
  • makes sure that when things in the library system break, everything possible is done to repair it
  • needs to be able to accurately assess the problem presented by the frantic library staff member that cannot log into their ILS account
  • needs to be approachable while still being the person that may often say no
  • is an imperfect person that maintains an imperfect system so that multiple departments doing multiple tasks can do their daily work.
  • must combine the principles of librarianship with the abilities of computing technology
  • must be able to communicate the concerns and needs of the library to IT and communicate the concerns and needs of IT to the library

Things I would have wanted to know about Systems Librarianship: When you’re interested but naive about what it takes.

  • You need to be able to see the big and small pictures at once and how every piece fits into the puzzle
  • Systems Librarianship requires you to communicate, often and on difficult to explain topics. Take time to master this. You will be doing a lot of it and you want everyone involved to understand, because all parties will most likely be affected by the decision.
  • You don’t actually get to sit behind a computer all day every day just doing your thing.
  • You are the person to bridge the gap between IT and librarians. Take the time to understand the inner workings of both groups, especially as they relate to the library.
  • You’ll be expected to communicate between IT staff and Library staff why their request, no matter the intention, will or will not work AND if it will work, but would make things worse – why.
  • You will have a new problem to tackle almost every day. This is what makes the job so great
  • You need to understand the tasks of every department in the library. Take the time to get to know the staff of those departments as well – it will give insight to how people work.
  • You need to be able to say no to a request that should not or cannot be done, yes even to administration.
  • No one really knows all you do, so it’s important to take the time to explain your process when the time calls for it.
  • You’ll most likely inherit a system setup that is confusing at best. It’s your job to keep it going, make it better even.
  • You’ll be expected to make the “magic” happen, so you’ll need to be able to explain why things take time and don’t appear like a rabbit out of a hat.
  • You’ll benefit greatly from being open about how the system works and how one department’s requests can dramatically, or not so dramatically, affect another part of the system.
  • Be honest when you give timelines. If you think the job will take 2 weeks, give yourself 3.
  • You will spend a lot of time working with vendors. Don’t take their word for  “it,” whatever “it” happens to be.
  • This is important– you’re not alone. Ask questions on the email lists, chat groups, Twitter, etc..
  • You will be tempted to work on that problem after work, schedule time after work to work on it but do not let it take over your life, make sure you find your home/work life balance.

Being a systems librarian is hard work. It’s not always an appreciated job but it’s necessary and in the end, knowing everything I do,  I’d choose it again. Being a tech librarian is awesome and you don’t have to know everything about books to be good at it. I finally accepted this after months of ridicule from my trivia team for “failing” at librarianship because I didn’t know the answer to that obscure book reference from an author 65 years ago.

Also, those lists are not, by any means, complete — I’m curious, what would you add?

Possibly of interest, a bit dated (2011) but a comprehensive list of posts on systems librarianship: https://librarianmandikaye.wordpress.com/systems-librarian/

Google Cardboard

IMG_20160223_164012Google Cardboard is getting a lot of press these days. It’s infiltrated fashion shows and classrooms and it’s coming for your Coke can. More importantly, it’s the next big thing for libraries. If you’re new to Cardboard, it’s essentially housing made of cardboard that turns your phone into a virtual reality (VR) viewer. The idea is simple, but the experience is nothing short of magical. I’ve been experimenting with my viewer for almost a year and the novelty still hasn’t worn off. Similar products include Oculus Rift and Samsung’s Gear VR, but they come with a hefty price tag. A Cardboard viewer, on the other hand, will run you about $10 or less; Google even provides the blueprints if you want to create your own from scratch. The low cost, minimal learning curve, and interactivity of Cardboard make it the perfect tool to engage your library patrons.

Here are five ways to start using Cardboard in your library:

1. Get crafty.
Before the VR experience begins, you’ve got a real DIY opportunity on your hands. Bust out the hot glue gun and invite your patrons to decorate your viewers, or better yet, liven up your next staff meeting with a craft session.


2. Create a virtual tour of your library system.
At Indiana University we have over 19 branch libraries and I’ve yet to hoof it to each one. We’re currently creating a tour of these libraries using Google’s photo spheres. We hope that the novelty of a VR tour will entice students to participate and the experience will expand their knowledge of the Libraries’ massive collections and resources.

Wells Library

3. Organize a field trip.
Google is now piloting their Expeditions Pioneer Program that creates virtual field trips for schools. The program is invitation only, but it’s easy to create your own program using Google Street View. Why not enhance your school visits with a trip around the world? How about an armchair travel program for adults?

4. Expand your 3D printing services.
You might not have the resources to reprint every design that comes through your library, but why not preserve it on the web? With Sketchfab you can view 3D objects directly in your web browser. Ask your patrons if you can upload their designs to Sketchfab and create a collection for your library. Place a Cardboard viewer next to your 3D printer to showcase their designs.

5. Host a VR Game Night.
I’ll admit that the number of decent Cardboard apps is limited, especially when it comes to games. That said, I’ve had good luck with Lamper VR Firefly Rescue, Titans of Space, and DinoTrek. These apps are all free from the Play Store and easy to play, but be warned, if you get motion sickness these apps will probably do a number on you.