Interviews with innovators: Adrian Stevenson

Opening and connecting data silos with Linked Data

Adrian Stevenson (Mimas) discusses work using Linked Data as means of opening up and connecting library and archive collections. Recorded at Dev8D 2012, this interview  calls attention to some initiatives based on Linked Data approaches to opening up access to important datasets and resources.

Conducted in support of the JISC Observatory and as part of our Interviews with Innovators series, this interview is available in video as well as audio format. See below our interview transcript.

Link to lightning Interview with Adrian Stevenson

Adrian Stevenson is Senior Technical Innovations Coordinator (as part of the libraries and archives team) at at Mimas, a national centre for technical innovations and data hosting based at the University of Manchester. Adrian currently works on Open Data and Linked Data projects, including: the ’Linking Lives’ project, which uses archival Linked Open Data to build an interface based around names; the ‘Discovery‘ initiative, which is promoting aggregated open data for libraries, archives and museums.  For more information, see

Transcript: Lightning interview with Adrian Stevenson

My name is Adrian Stevenson and I work as Technical Innovation Support Coordinator at MIMAS, which is a data centre and innovation centre based at University of Manchester. In terms of recent technology that interests me, I’ve done a lot of work in the Linked Data field which has been very popular over the last number of years. I’ve been working on a number of projects outputting Linked Data from libraries, museums and archives (particularly libraries and archives) data areas. It’s an interesting space and seems to be offering some benefits.

Q: Why do you consider this to be important?

I think Linked Data is part of the whole thing of getting data out of its silos, where it has often been trapped in websites and databases. Whilst there are lots of challenges in the Linked Data area, it’s potentially a way of getting stuff out on the web and using the web as a database of sorts: a large database. It also goes hand-in-hand with the Open Data movement, and people often talk about Linked Data and Linked Open Data (LOD) as very much being the same thing — which they’re not, actually, though they do work hand-in-hand. When you put your data out there in RDF, in Linked Data form, it makes very much sense for it to be open in terms of getting the benefits from it by doing it that way.

Q: What promising developments have you seen in this area?

JISC is funding lots of really good stuff in this area. I’ve worked on a project called LOCAH, which has been producing Linked Data, and at the moment we are working on a project called Linking Lives, which is essentially taking our archival Linked Data and trying to mesh it up with other Linked Data sources that are out there. Very typically this is often Wikipedia, which remains very much a hub in the Linked Data space. But we are really trying to link it up with anything else we can find, from JISC-funded projects.

Q: Where do you see benefits from this work?

Benefits come from recombining data sets in interesting ways. It helps mutually to enhance those data sets: instead of archival data being just about archives. If for example we can link to the BBC then we can potentially link to a movie and we can point to an interview and point to whatever archive holdings are to be found across the country. Generally, by bring these things together that enhances their individual value and it gets more out of the data really.

Q: If you had a magic wand, what would you change?

It’s still challenging and people talk about it being hard to do, which begs the question of what is hard. It still feels like it is quite slow-moving. There are not that many tools and you tend to have to be hand-coding things quite a lot of the time. And when you are bringing data sets together often there are challenges: for example, Linking Lives is very much about people’s names so if we have stuff on Bertrand Russell or Beatrice Webb and we want to link to stuff that DBpedia have got or to another service, we have to deal with the incompatible ways that names are used as names are very messy, so matching up data is actually quite tricky. Licensing of data is also another very typical issue I suppose and this is where the whole Open Data movement is trying to move things forward. So the more open the data is the better really. Yes, there are obstacles. Yet although it seems like it’s quite slow there seems to be a moving in the right direction. We saw recently that Library of Congress is looking at Linked Data solutions potentially to replace MARC as the way to go with bibliographic data. So it does look like it may stay the course.

Q: Could you say something briefly about the First World War project that you have been working on?

The First World War project is a bit more about Open Data and about the whole ethic of trying to promote that. Basically, we have just started this project so we are very much in the process of working out how we are going to do things. But the idea is that we will be looking at what open APIs are available for resources that have Open Data about World War I. At the moment we are in the phase of really looking into what’s out there ourselves. We are also working with some people at King’s College and in fact phase one of the project is called ‘Contemporisation’ and that’s really about finding out what’s out there. From our perspective, MIMAS  are working on phase two and that’s about specifically focusing on Open Data APIs. So it’s going to be interesting to see what data and what things we can find in relation to World War I. We might be surprised: there could be more than we expect, and that could be quite a challenge. We will then create a meta-API. Though we’re trying to avoid that word meta-API, we are basically trying to build an aggregation layer on top of what we find. So that is called the World War I Aggregation Exemplar Project and it’s part of the JISC-funded Discovery Initiative and that’s very much about Open Data and aggregating Open Data. We are attempting to build a layer over the top that brings information about World War I and the last stage of the project will be to build a couple of interfaces. We are going to be working with some external suppliers to build those interfaces. So it’s a very interesting project and timescales are very tight: we’re intending to have everything done by July this year so there are certain risks there you might say. It looks to be a very interesting area and there’s quite a lot of interest in the whole World War I space and I’m excited to be a part of that.

For more discussions of technical innovation in Higher and Further Education, see our Interviews with innovators and our complete list of podcasts available from UKOLN Innovation Support Centre. RSS icon Subscribe to our podcast feed to hear the latest from innovators discussing technical developments relevant to Higher and Further Education.

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