One of my favorite aphorisms is “Time flies, whether you’re having fun or not.” I’m not sure where I heard it, but for sure I’m not creative enough to make it up on my own. The truth of it has been reinforced by the realization that here it is the end of January, post-Boston Midwinter, and I’ve done so little blogging for the past six months that it’s a stretch to call myself a blogger. Time to reclaim the turf. So this post is an attempt to summarize what I’ve been doing all that time, some of which has come to a sort of fruition, but some still ripening.
Last fall I participated as a speaker in a NISO Webinar “Bibliographic Control Alphabet Soup.” I decided for my topic to talk about some of the issues around building the RDA vocabularies from spreadsheets and ERDs (Entity Relationship Diagrams), which is what I had to work with on that task. (You can see the ERDs on the RDAOnline website). Part of my reason for trying to tackle those issues in the webinar is that the vocabularies had become a major focus of my working life for quite a while (does the word ‘obsessive’ sound too dramatic?) At the time, we (Jon Phipps, Karen Coyle, Gordon Dunsire and I) were also trying to write an article about what we’d done with the RDA elements and vocabularies, and that article came out last week in DLib Magazine. Starting the article last fall prompted me to create some diagrams in an attempt to try and convey the structure of these vocabularies, and to provide examples for folks to look at while they puzzle through the ideas. I used a subset of the diagrams in the webinar as well, but most of them are used to better purpose in the article. I’m not at all sure that the several hundred folks listening in to the webinar got much of what I was trying to convey—it’s pretty new stuff for most people, and I was trying to fit too much into my limit of 20 minutes (not nearly enough time). I hope that for those who might have been overwhelmed or confused by the webinar, the article will help to make the work we’ve done a bit clearer.
The writers of the article had a number of purposes in mind, not least to document the decisions and rationale for the strategies taken by the DCMI/RDA Task Group charged with the work of building the vocabularies. Given that the library community generally has little experience with RDF and RDF vocabularies, it seemed particularly important to attempt to provide explanations that we hoped would be accessible to most librarians, and I hope we’ll have sufficient feedback to determine how close we came to that goal. Given that we expected the article to come out just after Midwinter, we did most of our presentations in Boston on the implications of the vocabularies rather than the mechanics. I talked about these at the Technical Services ‘Big Heads’ meeting (slides) and Jon, Karen and I included some of these expectations in our introduction to application profiles at CC:DA on Monday (slides).
Just before Midwinter we started a dialogue with the JSC about next steps, and I hope that some of the issues that have come up will be open to public discussion, just as the vocabulary building was done in public. We’re all in a fairly intense learning space at the moment (at least it seems so to me), and keeping the process open and visible for all seems in support of that learning. We’re also continuing to update the vocabularies as errors are brought to our attention, and to complete portions where we need to add information. One such point in the property/subproperty hierarchies in the element sets—at the time the work was done there was a limitation in the Registry software that prevented us from including the proper hierarchies in both the general and FRBR-bounded portions of the vocabularies. That limitation is now removed, and the missing relationships will be added.
Interestingly, we’re getting lots of help in finding errors from our friends in Germany, who are doing nifty things with the vocabularies. They’ve been particularly helpful with things like inadvertent spaces introduced in URIs and other things difficult for a human proofreader to find. Because we don’t have good ways (yet) to visualize the relationships, their help has been invaluable. We urge anyone else who spots an error or who has a question to use our feedback button in the Registry to communicate with us about their concern.