Facet Publishing's current "Book of the month" is David Stuart's excellent Facilitating Access to the Web of Data: A guide for librarians. From the description: "This book is a wide-ranging introduction to the emerging web of data and the semantic web, exploring technologies including APIs, microformats and Linked Data". And, the book is aimed at individuals exactly like myself: "library and information professionals and for LIS students and researchers [and is also] of value to information architects, web developers and all those interested in making sure that people have access to the information they need." Thus, I'm reviewing it! It's a very readable, but relatively thorough, without going overboard with the details, overview of the topic. I especially admired the use of simple, concrete examples of how linked data works. I always struggle to come up with these when giving presentations or trying to explain the basic concepts.
The book is structured into the following chapters:
Chapter one on open data nicely lays out the issues surrounding making data openly available. Stuart covers the territory from governments being forced to make data public to government willingly releasing data to enhance services and their communities to the scientific community's calls for greater transparency in reporting of data to the private sector where data is a heavily guarded resource, and how librarians and information professionals can navigate this space and assist theirs users in accessing these datasets.
Chapter two provides background in the form of a tour through Web 1.0, Web 2.0 into Web 3.0 or the web of data which uses linked data principles and standards to enable machines to understand data within webpages or datasets. Stuart provides a high-level look at the structures behind the web of data such as RDF, URIs and SPARQL and gives some examples of how these developments can improve everything from search and retrieval to collating information from multiple sites or sources to answering complex queries. He stresses that forays into the web of data need not be overly complex for librarians and encourages library and information professionals to familiarize themselves with technologies such as RDF and SPARQL.
Chapter 3 tackles the issue of data silos and introduces APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) which allow companies, libraries and organizations "to spread their services away from their own websites to other websites and platforms." Stuart includes a selected list of APIs such as Open Library, Twitter and Library Thing's APIs and explores the advantages and disadvantages of siloed data and how the semantic web or web of data can expand access to data, where "the skills of the librarian will be needed more than ever."
Chapters 4 and 5 look at the "RDF vision" and "Embedded semantics" respectively. Stuart provides an excellent overview and background to the development of standards such as RDF and OWL and how these technologies fit into the "Semantic Web Stack". RDF triples, OWL, RDFs and various ontologies (such as FOAF) are discussed as well as how to browse the linked data web via SPARQL, browser plugins and semantic search engines. Then, in chapter 5, Stuart summarizes the efforts to date at embedding semantics into existing web pages via technologies such as microformats, RDFa, and the more-recent standard to emerge, microdata. He provides a nice overview of the issues with interoperability and scope involved in using these markup schema but explains that for many, these tools offer a direct and straightforward way for users to join with and interact in the web of data.
In Chapters 6 and 7, Stuart ties everything together with a clever summation of Ranganathan's 5 Laws of Library Science reworked for the web of data world we now inhabit and the future of librarian in this world. Some might find his statement at the beginning of Chapter 7 a bit strong: "Ignoring the web of data would seem to be the beginning of the end of librarianship." But, his point is well-taken. The general move from information being available in print and other formats to "born-digital" or data-only formats is irreversible and librarians have the opportunity to use our skills and existing knowledge to facilitate the linking of data via RDF, OWL and SPARQL. We are in a unique position to assist developers and other IT folk in not reinventing the wheel when it comes to structuring and organizing information and data as that's always been the librarian's forté.
All in all, Stuart has produced a must-read for any library or information professional (or anyone working in the delivery, structuring and organization of information via the web, which includes a whole host of other folks). Without getting mired in technical details, but yet providing enough for the uninitiated to get a "flavour" for what's involved, there is enough here to sink one's teeth into and links to other resources for further reading to expand on the concepts introduced in this work. I highly recommend it!