Monday, 22 September 2014

Sharing expertise in support of Networked Knowledge Organization Systems

“Small is beautiful” said Ernst Schumacher in 1973. Despite the subsequent trends towards globalization, his note still strikes a chord, echoing strongly at the 13th NKOS Workshop held in London on 11-12 September. Addressing only 20 participants, each of the 9 speakers got the space and audience support to expose real issues arising from their current R & D projects, including practical obstacles such as the weaknesses of tools for handling KOS management and exploitation.
Ceri Binding, for example, had investigated six different products to help with establishing mappings between vocabularies, without finding one that was fully satisfactory. The size of the LOD (Linked Open Data) cloud always impresses - 1048 datasets, 302 vocabularies, and the numbers grow all the time – but problems have been reported with at least 58% of the datasets, such as “503: unavailable” or “404: not found”, and Ceri observed big variations in the quality of the links. Successful Linked Data projects with sustained value for users are plainly less common than our wishful thinking supposes.
All the speakers were clear and straightforward. As usual at the NKOS Workshops, I was very impressed at the amount of knowledge and expertise assembled in the room. If only there was some way of sharing that accumulated experience with all those who struggle in isolation to handle thesaurus or taxonomy development!
The intimate atmosphere made it realistic to engage everyone in discussion. I took the opportunity to report on outcomes from a workshop held jointly by ISKO UK, DCMI and BCS IRSG on 23 June, on “Vocabularies and the Potential for Linkage”, and asked again what could be done about the need for more tools and training. Animated conversation followed, overflowing into the pub afterwards and continuing through to the concluding session next day.
It was hard to find practical, feasible solutions, partly because the community engaged in vocabulary mapping is quite small. Not only that, the term “vocabulary” has different meanings for different groups. The DCMI definition, for example, includes datasets and metadata schemas as well as controlled vocabularies used for subject indexing. This leads to a very wide range of skills and specializations. This diversity of topics and the distance that separates us from co-workers makes it unrealistic to set up affordable training days.
In the NKOS community, at least we can focus on KOSs (Knowledge Organization Systems) as the type of vocabulary to be linked (… though that still includes subject heading schemes, classification schemes, name authority lists and many taxonomies as well as thesauri.) That’s a useful focus for ISKO members too. If we can’t organize formal training sessions, at least we can make use of wiki space and perhaps other social media. In a wiki we could assemble all we know about tools and techniques – or at least pointers to where that knowledge can be found. Workshop participants left resolving to work together by email to make this happen. I shall report on progress via the ISKO-L and ISKO–UK lists.
Finally, remember - this workshop was small but beautiful. See the programme and all presentations at <>.
Stella Dextre Clarke
Chair, ISKO UK

Monday, 30 June 2014

Digital Asset Management Europe 2014 (DAMEU)

I attended this conference on 26th-27th June in London on behalf of ISKO UK, in place of Stella Dextre Clarke, who was unable to attend. The full programme of the meeting, with abstracts of papers is given on the conference web site.

The scope of the concept that is labelled by the term “digital assets” was not defined, but it became clear during the conference that the main emphasis was on pictures, video and audio, prepared for marketing purposes in big organizations. These may amount to hundreds of thousands of items, including, for example, all the images of products included in printed and on-line catalogues, advertising images, sales and training videos, news items, and pictures of people. Marks and Spencer receive 1500 such digital assets per day, coming from many agencies who may be in competition with each other, so that the work of each one has not to be visible to the others. DAM systems are also used in non-marketing applications, such as Kew Gardens, which uses them for scientific purposes as well as for public awareness. The collection of North Wales Police includes fingerprints, scene of crime photographs, mug shots of criminals, CCTV recordings, recordings from video cameras worn by police officers and recordings of interviews, all of which are growing at the rate of 2500 new items per day.

DAM systems are basically information storage and retrieval systems, and their underlying functionality is similar to that of such systems used in other applications. A blog post by Elizabeth Keathley lists ten features of a DAM system, including the essential requirements of version control and workflow processing, recording where a resource has come from and where and when it was used.

These systems depend on metadata being attached to each item, either at the point of creation or later, and if this can be done automatically so much the better. Technical information may be embedded with a picture in EXIF format, for example, and the location may be recorded automatically if the capture device has GIS capability. Embedded information is sometimes lost when an item is edited or transferred to a different system, and it may be better retained in an associated file of metadata, which can also contain fields which are not supported by the embedded format.

Several speakers mentioned the importance of having a “librarian” as part of the team, to manage the metadata and to help create and maintain controlled and structured vocabularies. Very little was said about the nature of these, however, and from the demonstration systems that were exhibited I got the impression that indexing vocabularies were often ad hoc creations without being based on sound principles such as those understood by ISKO.

Many of the presentations were around the problems of procuring a DAM and introducing it into an organization, convincing management that it was needed and convincing potential users to use it. The advantages of a coherent centralised system were pointed out, but several speakers said that they found about forty different digital asset management systems in use in their organizations, and it was not easy to persuade people to give up their personal or departmental systems and transfer their data to a company-wide scheme. As usual, if one department could be convinced and realise the benefits, they could act as a “champion” to enthuse others. It was essential that the end users should take a full part in the procurement process, so that they could feel that the system was the one that best met their needs and that they “owned” it and participated in its development.

Several speakers said how important it was to engage a consultant to help with the procurement process, who could suggest a realistic list of suppliers from the large number of systems available, and work with users to define and prioritise their requirements. In such a fast-changing field, it was essential to choose suppliers in whom the client had confidence that they could work with, and in one case the client and the supplier were asked to share “road maps” of how they saw their systems developing over the next five years, to check that they were in step. One consultant whose advice was mentioned as valuable by two of the speakers was Mark Davey, president and founder of the DAM Foundation. His presentation “DAM will morph into knowledge based platforms” was the only one to acknowledge that wider developments in KOS were applicable to DAM systems, mentioning and linked open data, for example.

There was a small exhibition of DAM software, including the open source system ResourceSpace. (Other open source packages are listed at Review of available open source DAM software). One of these might be appropriate for ISKO UK’s increasing collection of presentations and recordings from its past meetings.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Metadata Intersections: Bridging the Archipelago of Cultural Memory. Call for Participation.

The International Conference and Annual Meeting of DCMI, 8-11 October 2014 (DC-2014) requests submission of papers on the Conference theme:

Metadata is fundamental in enabling ubiquitous access to cultural and scientific resources through galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM). While fundamental, GLAM traditions in documentation and organization lead to significant differences in both their languages of description and domain practices. And yet, the push is on for "radically open cultural heritage data" that bridges these differences as well as those across the humanities and the sciences. DC-2014 will explore the role of metadata in spanning the archipelago of siloed cultural memory in an emerging context of linked access to data repositories as well as repositories of cultural artifacts.

For further information, see the Conference website.

Open Access Metadata and Indicators

With the advent of Open Access initiatives, the need has arisen to annotate discrete works to indicate the conditions under which they may be accessed and/or re-used. In January 2013, the NISO  Open Access Metadata and Indicators Working Group was charged with developing protocols and mechanisms for transmitting the access status of scholarly works, specifically to indicate whether a specific work is openly accessible (i.e., free-to-read by any user who can get to the work over the internet) and what re-use rights might be available.

NISO is currently seeking comments on the draft recommended practice Open Access Metadata and Indicators (NISO RP-22-201x).

“Use and re-use rights can be difficult to explain in metadata,” states Ed Pentz, Executive Director, CrossRef, and Co-chair of the NISO Open Access Metadata and Indicators Working Group. “By publishing URIs for applicable licenses and including these URIs in the metadata for the content, more detailed explanations of rights can be made available. The metadata can also be used to express how usage rights change over time or point to different licenses for particular time periods, for example when an embargo applies.”

The draft recommended practice is open for public comment through February 4, 2014. To download the draft or submit online comments, visit the Open Access Metadata and Indicators webpage.

Email dated 06/01/2014 to DC-GENERAL@JISCMAIL.AC.UK from:
Cynthia Hodgson
Technical Editor / Consultant
National Information Standards Organization

Saturday, 28 December 2013

99% Smiles, 1% Sweat, 100% Cotton

At our last two conferences, we have supplied delegate bags made from pure, eco-friendly cotton. These were manufactured by a social enterprise called Vandanamu, whose factory is located near Pondicherry on the coast of southern India. The bags are of very high quality and good value for money. They can be printed with a logo - or logos - of your choice and are available in a range of sizes.

Vandanamu was set up in response to the devastating Boxing Day tsunami which hit the whole region in 2004, with a view to providing a livelihood for some of those hit hardest by the disaster. Last year, the enterprise started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for solar panels, which would have cut their electricity costs significantly and would have made their business far less vulnerable to rising energy costs. Unfortunately, they raised insufficient donations to qualify for the funding.

Nevertheless, Vandanamu continue to consolidate their enterprise by working towards gaining Fair Trade and environmental certifications, allowing them eventually to be featured in Ethical suppliers' databases world-wide.

For more information on a venture well worth supporting, view their video on YouTube.

Friday, 6 December 2013

In Remembrance of Peter Griffiths

Peter Griffiths. Photo source: CILIP
It is with real sadness that we note the passing, on 13 November, of Peter Griffiths. Peter had a long career in LIS, starting at Harrow Public Library and progressing through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, then the Department of Health. But many of us who knew him probably came across him during his long tenure at the Home Office, where his latest position was Head of Information within the Office of the Chief Information Officer.

Peter was an enthusiastic and unrelenting advocate for the power of information management, not only within the confines of the library, but in industry and commerce too. It was in his capacity as evangelist that he presented at an early ISKO UK event on 5 March 2008: Confronting the Future - Organizing and Managing Knowledge in the Web 2.0 Age.

Peter was Vice-President of CILIP when he presented to ISKO UK in 2008. The following year, he became CILIP President. Further details may be viewed on the CILIP web site.

Peter will be sorely missed by those who knew him.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

K, KM, KO: in Search of Definitions

After 25 years of service on standards committees I suffer from a personal dread of definitions. As chairman of some ISO and BSI working groups, I’ve generally had the job of cajoling all parties into consensus. And the definitions clause has generally proven the most divisive, packed with minutiae to excite the sensibilities of the experts. It usually locks the committee up for weeks of argument. (Sometimes for years – if tough decisions get conveniently postponed while the rest of the work proceeds.)

But the question of definitions seemed not so easy to evade at the NetIKX 21st birthday celebrations last week. Billed as “Knowledge organization past present and future”, the meeting had two speakers, one talking about “The 7 Ages of IKM in Organizations”, and the other describing knowledge management (KM) issues in an important public sector organization. The title of the second presentation was “The Organisation of Organisational Knowledge”. Despite much use of the K word and the O word, neither of the talks was about what I would describe as Knowledge Organization (KO). Would a productive debate be stimulated by querying the use of “KO” in the meeting title, I wondered, or would the fruitless grinding of axes tear us to pieces?
Thankfully my dilemma was resolved as the meeting began with a clear acknowledgement from the chair that KM, rather than KO, would be the main focus. Both speakers provided entertaining and stimulating presentations. The first, David Skyrme, even supplied his own preferred definition of KM, along the lines of “the explicit and systematic management of vital knowledge and its associated procedures of creation, gathering, organizing, diffusion, use and exploitation in pursuit of organizational objectives”.

But the question of definitions was not completely banished. Plainly NetIKX has listened to umpteen variations on the definitions of “knowledge” and “knowledge management” during its 21 years. In the syndicate sessions after the tea break our table was explicitly charged with discussing definitions. One participant proffered a statement concocted for a recent client, deliberately customized to show the relevance of KM to the client’s own business context. The statement emphasized the functional benefits of KM, rather than attempting an academic definition.
My own reaction to the challenge was to applaud the public sector ploy of side-stepping the issue by bringing “Information Management” and “Knowledge Management” under one umbrella labelled “IKM”. While there’s a legitimate place for pursuing a specialism such as records management, web design, knowledge engineering, etc., there is also a lot to be said for blurring the boundaries so that we work together effectively to achieve common objectives. The study of a specialist subject can help each of us become really proficient in a chosen area, but today’s workplace often requires teamwork, with inputs from diverse backgrounds. Furthermore, the content of each specialism is constantly evolving, especially as we need to master emerging technologies. I therefore favour professional definitions that are inclusive rather than divisive, and are hospitable to change.

A definition of “Knowledge Organization” too should be inclusive, in my view. As an applied subject rather than a fundamental science, KO should be open to new developments and approaches. But I was relieved when I left the NetIKX meeting without being challenged to put a definition on the table! In 2008 the ISKO (International Society for Knowledge Organization) journal Knowledge Organization devoted the whole of a special issue (see vol 35, no 2-3) to exploration of a definition of this subject field. Despite much debate and discussion, in 2013 the journal still describes its scope in half a page of text rather than a tight definition. The ISKO website, however, provides a link to a useful Wikipedia article, which outlines half a dozen different approaches to KO and lets the reader choose. Is this the best line to take?  Or should we come off the fence and provide a one-liner?  Should we first set up an event for members to come and debate their favourite definitions?  Why not add your own views immediately by commenting on this blog?
Stella Dextre Clarke

Chair, ISKO UK