Kevin Bradley, IASA president, gave the welcome address to the 42nd IASA annual conference. He characterised the digital revolution as one that will continue reverberating for years. He reminded us that it is not always easy to sort the sense from the nonsense and that we are often surprised by what turns out to be valid and how easy it is not to see the wood for the trees – or perhaps to “lose the word to the bits”, or the “picture to the pixels”.

Keynote address – on Linked Open Data

The keynote speech was given by Ute Schwens, deputy director of the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek / German National Library (DNB). She opened with a lovely visualisation by the Opte Project of various routes through a portion of the Internet. It looked a bit like visualisations of neurons in a brain or stars and galaxies.

Ute’s talk was in support of publishing Linked Open Data. She outlined some of the concerns – lack of money, open access versus intellectual property rights, poor quality of data and assets themselves, and inadequate legal frameworks. She said that we shouldn’t be trying to select for digitisation, because everything in an archive has already been selected or it wouldn’t have been kept in the first place. She also highlighted the benefits of making digital versions of unique or fragile artefacts, in order to allow access without risk to the original. She talked about how there are many ways to digitise and that these produce different versions, so an archival master that is as close to the original as possible should always be preserved.

She used as an illustration original piano rolls. These can only be played on very specialised electrical pianos and users cannot practically be given access to them directly, but they were played by specialists and the music recorded, so users can be given access to that. The recordings are not the same as the piano rolls, but are a new and interesting product. It seems obvious that you would not destroy the original piano rolls simply because the music from them had been recorded and now exists in a digital version, so why should you destroy other forms of media such as film, simply because you have a digital version? The digital version in such cases is for access, not preservation.

One fear is that free access to information will diminish usage of an archive or library, but by opening up you can gain new users, especially by providing free access to catalogues and metadata (I like to think of these as “advertising” – shops make their catalogues freely available because they see them primarily as marketing tools).

Another fear is loss of control, but new scientific ideas often arise when diverse strands of thought are brought together and unexpected uses are made of existing data. The unusual and the unforeseen is often the source of the greatest innovation.

She pointed out that we have drafted searching and indexing rules over centuries to try to make objects as findable as possible, so Linked Open Data is merely the next logical step. We can combine automatically generated information with data we already have to provide multiple access points. We need to describe to put objects into context, but we don’t have to describe what they look like in the ways that we used to for catalogues. Good metadata is metadata that useful for users, not metadata merely for maintaining catalogues.

She ended by calling for more open access to data as ways to promote our collections and their value, adding that in uncertain times, our only security is our ability to change.

In the discussion afterwards, she said that Google needs our data and the best way to engage with – and even influence – Google is by gaining recognition as a valued supplier and making sure Google understands how much it needs us to provide it with good quality data.

The conference was hosted by Deutsche Nationalbibliothek / German National Library (DNB), Hessischer Rundfunk / Hessian Broadcasting (hr), and the Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv / German Public Broadcasting Archives (DRA). The sponsors were EMC2 (gold); Memnon Archiving Services, NOA audio solutions, and Arvato digital services (Bertelsmann) (silver); and Cedar audio, Cube-tec International, Front Porch Digital, and Syylex Digital Storage (bronze).