Will the research libraries play a role in e-science

Sigfrid Lundberg's Stuff 2009-07-15

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I was asked to participate in an e-science pilot project. The pilot is directed towards social science, and its main goal is to find out what we could do in the area. Should libraries play a role in a future eScience infrastructure? If yes, what could we do for our patrons in this area?

That the answer should be yes to the first question is obvious for anyone responsible for the strategic development of any research library around the globe, but the second question is clearly more difficult to answer.

Libraries have, traditionally, been occupied with four activities: They collect, preserve, organize and provide access to information. Indeed a search for these four terms in Google seem to yield a search very focussed on mission statements for Northern American research libraries. It isn't farfetched to conclude that we could extend this role to include research data in digital form

A happy hypertextual symbiosis

In my vision, our role may not end here. The task should involve an infrastructure permitting the our existing information (published in the form of books, journals and whatever) live in a happy hypertextual symbiosis with the research data it is based on.

In this ecosystem of data and models scientists should be able to combine old stuff in new ways just and continue building the human knowledge by submitting new data. Every piece of data need to be possible to address, for the purpose of annotation as well as for retrieval. Every piece of data, any point in a diagram need an identifier. And it has to be a URI.

No single organization will be able to afford to build the infrastructure needed by any research community. The good news is that no single organization need to build it. The web of data, which has to be the eScience infrastructure, will almost certainly be the Worldwide web. Nothing less, nothing more.

This is the vision of linked data and the semantic web, rephrased in the context of scientific information.

By tradition libraries are aimed for some local community. In particular, the are funded by some local authority for that purpose. Hence they build collections suitable for that community. This local focus is a problem when everything else is Worldwide.

The idea of the web of data as a foundation for an eScience is a good idea, and most likely the only one that will work. Indeed it is so obvious ones that any actor within the business of scientific information are about to adopt it; publishers, learned societies and libraries alike. However there are others that are interested. Google eScience doesn't sound too exotic to me.

Google eScience is not a threat, per se. The web of data need data feeds. We can provide that. The problem is our local scope, and in particular the focus on a local community. But that boils down to the local funding.

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My name is Sigfrid Lundberg. The stuff I publish here may, or may not, be of interest for anyone else.

On this site there is material on photography, music, literature and other stuff I enjoy in life. However, most of it is related to my profession as an Internet programmer and software developer within the area of digital libraries at the Royal Library, Copenhagen (Denmark) and, before that, Lund university (Sweden).

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