I just returned from ALA Annual 2016 in Orlando, Florida, and besides enjoying more temperate weather I’ve also been thinking about some of what I experienced there. One experience in particular stands out.
Every ALA in recent years my employer (OCLC) has sponsored a “Linked Data Roundtable” where practitioners discuss their cutting edge work with linked data. The Library of Congress is a fixture on this panel, as are we, but we also try to have another one or two others who are doing work with linked data also. This year we invited Marlene Van Ballegooie to talk about the Canadian Linked Data Initiative. We limit presentations to 10 minutes so we can have a lot of time for questions and discussion.
But forgive me, for I have buried the lead.
It was toward the end of the session when I found occasion to assert that there was an elephant in the room that no one was discussing. It is this: the day will come when we will need to completely change our (mostly backend) systems and processes from being MARC-record-based to linked-data-entity-based. For the lack of a better term, I dubbed it “The Big Flip”.
“No one” is an exaggeration. Certainly we are thinking about this at OCLC, and the UC Davis BIBFLOW project is specifically chartered with the goal of figuring this out. Unfortunately, I fear that they may be too far ahead of their time. I’m not sure the profession as a whole is ready. Mostly we aren’t thinking about it, we aren’t discussing it, and we certainly aren’t planning for it.
I’m not privy to internal discussions at other integrated library systems vendors, and perhaps they are planning — and perhaps even working on — updating their systems. But I doubt it. Partly because there is too little to work with that has any kind of stability. BIBFRAME is still very much in development, with the latest version only just released. Even LC is not prepared to produce BF 2.0 records until probably sometime in the Fall.
One of the reasons why this worries me is that people are still thinking about our foundational data in terms of records instead of collections of linked data assertions. And with that old thinking comes old assumptions that must be questioned and replaced with new realizations and opportunities. But without seeing the elephant we can continue to remain ignorant and complacent.
Meanwhile time marches on and The Big Flip only gets closer. It might be nice if we could at least start talking about it as if it will happen one day. Because it will. It would be nice if we were ready for it, and poised to exploit the opportunities it will bring.
Image by Rachelle Meyer, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY-2.0) License.