VIAF and Linked Data

Tom Hickey recently posted on a new development with the VIAF. The VIAF or the Virtual International Authority File is an international project to bring together in one place authorized headings from several libraries and institutions around the world. Interestingly enough, VIAF is hosted and implemented by OCLC. This is where the linked data part comes into play because Tom Hickey is the co-lead for what is essentially a OCLC project using OCLC software.

According to Tom Hickey, linked data means:

To us linked data means:

  • URIs for everything
  • HTTP 303 redirects for URIs representing the personae our metadata is about
  • HTTP content negotiation for different data formats
  • An RDF view of the data
  • A rich a set of internal and external links in our data

This is what the OCLC website on the VIAF explains as well. This means that there will be one giant authority record from which any institution can use independent of language. OCLC’s website explains the process as follows:

  • OCLC has proven software for matching and linking authority records for personal names.
  • That software will be used to match the authority records from The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek and the Bibliothèque nationale de France to the corresponding authority records from the Library of Congress.
  • Once the existing authority records are linked, shared OAI servers will be established to maintain the authority files and to provide user access to the files.
    • Users then will be able to see names displayed in the most appropriate language.
      • For example, German users will be able to see a name displayed in the form established by the dnb, while
      • French users will see the same name as established by the BnF, and
      • American users will view the name as established by LC.
  • Users in either country will be able to view name records as established by the other nation, thus making the authorities truly international and facilitating research across languages anywhere in the world.

How will this help libraries? Essentially, instead of an authority record being tied to one language, headings can be accessed according to a unique identifier. In that way, the information associated with that identifier can be displayed according to language. More importantly, this allows those searching for records to have a larger pool within to search. Especially for digital libraries, the VIAF, given the recent addition of the Getty List of Artists Names, could be extremely useful since it is almost like a federated search.

In my own research for an image collection, I used the VIAF to find the name of a Puerto Rican musician called Eddie Santiago. I was able to find 2 different forms of the authorized heading that referred to the same person. LCNAF and the National Library of Germany both used the heading, Santiago, Eddie, while the National Libraries of Spain and France used Santiago, Eddie, 1961-. This was useful in that I was able to see results from not only my own country but also 3 others. The problem is that for this one person, there were 2 authorized forms. Furthermore, there were 3 distinct VIAF authority records for this one name: VIAF ID: 13972441, 90646721, 71683685. It didn’t look like these authority records were in any way linked to one another. It was my own research that lead me to see that these 3 VIAF records were for the same individual. This is a sign that the VIAF has some way to go.

I like the idea. However, I am not completely happy to see that it is hosted and implemented by OCLC. Right now this is a pilot project. Most likely, it will pick up speed and the problem that I encountered will be taken care of. This begs the question of how OCLC will profit from VIAF. Will libraries have to pay in order to access this giant authority file? Because nothing, as yet, exists like the VIAF, will libraries have to pay premium prices for data that was created by them in the first place?