I spoke at VALA 2008, Australia’s biennial library conference, this past week. My participation was spurred initially by a request to deliver a paper on behalf of OCLC's Robin Murray, who could not attend. Soon after I agreed, the organizers invited me to stand in for a keynote speaker who had to cancel due to a family emergency. My first ever double-substitution conference.
The topic of the conference (Libraries: Changing Spaces, Virtual Places) gave me a perfect opportunity to combine two areas of interest – social networking and canonical identifiers – to present a case for how library systems might bring their assets into sharper Web focus.
OCLC has been exploring an important facet of this problem (canonical manifestation identifiers), and the VALA conference afforded a timely opportunity to announce this exploration. The tentative name for these identifiers: Global Library Manifestation Identifiers, or Glimirs for short.
The community at large is increasingly aware of the importance of canonical identifiers for FRBR entities, especially Group I entities (Works, Expressions, Manifestations, and Items). Existing OCLC numbers approximate manifestation identifiers, but ironically, as the database grows in scope, this rough correspondence is reduced through the loading of records in various languages. These are not duplicates, but rather alternative institutional, regional, or language representations that point to a given resource.
The need for explicit manifestation identifiers thus becomes more evident. We need identifiers that are globally scoped, business neutral, usable by all, and managed in either a centralized or federated manner. To the extent that such identifiers are canonical – that is, become the dominant identifier for a given asset, they increase the “URI equity” for library assets and will strengthen the library presence on the Web.
Interesting and challenging issues arise in the design of such identifiers and their supporting infrastructure. Broad adoption will require a careful balance of use-cases, business issues, and community participation in meeting the need. All of this in an environment already crowded with myriad special purpose identifiers. OCLC is launching a pilot to explore these issues. An early proposal has been shared with a number of technical and policy leaders and their valuable feedback will be used to strengthen the effort and move it to the next stage.
A surfer at Torquay beach on the coast south of Melbourne.