For researchers, navigating the breadth and depth of resources contained in library catalogs demands both time and patience. To address the fact that discovery information resources are becoming increasingly complex, the Penn Libraries is working on a radical project to connect information more seamlessly through a linked-data discovery interface. In tandem with Casalini Libri, an international bibliographic agent and library supplier, and @Cult, a software strategy and developer firm, the Penn Libraries is developing an experimental system based on the Share-Virtual Discovery Environment (Share-VDE) project which will be available in mid 2020.
Casalini and @Cult invited the Penn Libraries to join the Share-VDE project upon its inception in 2016. The Share-VDE initiative, driven by the library community itself, combines the holdings of over 20 international research libraries in a single searchable catalog, and does so by converting Machine Readable Cataloging (MARC) records to Resource Description Framework (RDF) using the Library of Congress (LOC)’s BIBFRAME vocabulary.
"The Penn Libraries is an ideal partner,” observes Michele Casalini, CEO of Casalini Libri. “They push our thinking from a user perspective. They remind us that we’re harnessing linked data not for the sake of connecting information, but for connecting information for users in a research environment."
As Patricia and Bernard Goldstein Director of Information Processing Beth Picknally Camden explains, MARC was developed by the Library of Congress in the 1960s, “and it looks like it. MARC doesn’t communicate well with web-based computer languages.” The Share-VDE initiative has not only converted participants’ MARC records to Resource Description Framework (RDF) but has also “enriched” them by adding links, thereby moving participants’ catalogs toward the interconnectivity of the internet.
The next phase, now in development by the Penn linked-data discovery partnership, emphasizes user interface. Penn, Casalini, and @Cult are teaming up with Samhaeng, a Copenhagen-based company that works on user interface, to include in the Share-VDE interface ways for users to procure displayed record holdings.
“The Penn Libraries is extending what’s already being done by the larger Share-VDE cohort,” says Camden. If a given holding is electronic, the interface will prompt the user to authenticate their credentials and then grant them immediate access to local content first and then to the world’s content. If the holding is physical, the interface will display whether it’s available at Penn — and if it’s not, it will route the user to a BorrowDirect interface. Camden notes that about a third of the libraries participating in Share-VDE are BorrowDirect institutions.
The Penn iteration of the Share-VDE discovery interface will be fully interactive and comprise a linked-data alternative to supplement the Libraries’ existing’ discovery interface. As Jon Shaw, Associate Vice Provost and Deputy University Librarian, notes, “This experiment will serve as a proof of concept, demonstrating how linked data can be utilized in a large, academic research setting.”