A book recently published by Facet (UK) entitled "Using Web 2.0 for Health Information" contains a chapter I wrote on "Supporting research." It's a brief overview of Web 2.0 tools (twitter, blogs, wikis, etc.) and how they enable and augment the research process. A later chapter in the book contains an article by Giustini and Cho entitled "Web 3.0 and Health Librarians: What does the future hold?" Herein, Giustini and Cho elucidate how the next generation of the web (semantic web/web of data/linked data or whatever the current term of the moment is) will change the way we find information.
The way I like to think of the Semantic Web as of 24 May 2011: the Semantic Web is still a meaningful term but is best understood as a "web of data" connected and made meaningful by "linked data" - so, linking disparate data and data sets on the web. So, moving from a web of documents to a web of data. Tim Berners-Lee outlined this vision in a now-infamous paper on the topic and has, in intervening years, added to this vision. What's interesting about Guistini and Cho's chapter in the aforementioned book is the relationship to traditional library science paradigms and "problem spaces" that go back more than a century.
As Giustini and Cho point out:
"But conceptually, the next-generation web or "web of data" as articulated by Berners-Lee and others looks back to an earlier model of documentation by Paul Otlet in the early 20th century and to bibliographic control by Melvil Dewey and Antonio Panizzi in the 19th century. For the cutting edge in organizing and linking important information, what's old seems new again."
Indeed, one of the reasons I think librarians and information professionals are as revelant as ever is that we have, as a profession, been dealing with many of the same issues that the further development of the web face including improving search, findability, discoverability, browsing and linking of related resources. Side note: I was always quite enchanted by Melville Dewey changing his name to Melvil Dui (though only the first name stuck, historically) in an attempt to shorten and simplify spelling and thus access. I think he anticipated something like RDF triples or encoding of information in smaller chunks of metadata, before there was even a concept of data!
Back to the chapter, as Giustini and Cho point out, librarians are doing their share in this new phase of development of the web, but there isn't enough coordination between those at work.
A massive project like the Semantic Web requires the application of ontologies, as well as a set of standards or rules, much as we have done for generations in library catalogues. Although library professionals and semantic experts do not typically exchange knowledge, they should be encourage to do so."
Agreed. Libraries have share data and dealt with many issues surrounding the sharing of diverse data sets for a while now. Through MARC to Dublin Core and beyond, librarians and other information professionals work to organize knowledge, just as the new semantic web efforts are working toward. Giustini and Cho point out the the new RDA standard which replaced the AACR2 in 2010 is being brought into line with semantic web standards by coming into line with RDF and the FRBR guideline from IFLA are also being translated into RDF. A massive triple store indeed!
Toward the end of the chapter, Giustini and Cho note that:
At least one health librarian suggests that standard medical ontologies such as SNOMED and the UMLS can be used to model and create taxonomies for the semantic web. Medicine lends itself to semantic mapping and taxonomy development, due to its precise use of language and terminologies"
Well, you can make that 2! That's exactly what needs to happen: data modeling in semantic web/linked data constructs like RDF, RDFs and OWL of concepts and terms in these systems, especially the UMLS's meta-thesaurus of ca. 160 vocabularies in health and biomedicine.
For health librarians and for any librarian interested in future of our profession, I definitely recommend the book.