Five Reasons To Be Cheerful

Five reasons to be cheerful about the Discovery Service Projects

David Kay, working with the Mimas Discovery team

So, what’s new? Another year, another round of  projects – the second phase of the Discovery initiative.

Whilst it would be naïve to trumpet progress or to estimate distance travelled at this stage, I confess to being enthused by the discussions taking place at the kick off workshop in Birmingham on 11 January. You’ll find initial introductions to all the projects mentioned in this post here.

The meeting brought together 10 of the 11 projects linked to the JISC 13/11 call for Discovery Services, the Cambridge / Lincoln CLOCK project being the only absentees. So let’s start right there for the first of five observations in this post …

The CLOCK collaboration emerged directly from a fruitful dialogue about the practical value open catalogue data in Phase 1 (check out the COMET and JEROME precursors). Likewise the Open Bibliography project, championed by the inventive Mark MacGillivray, continues powerful work started in the JISC Expo programme with 30m openly licensed records already in the bag – check out their demonstrator.

Observation 1 – Thinking shared and experience gained within the Discovery initiative is maturing in to a powerful community tool.

And lest anyone should suggest that all the running is being made by libraries, up steps the AIM25 archival consortium with ‘Step Change’, working to apply the linked data based indexing productivity endorsed by archivists in Phase 1 to the widely used CALM cataloguing application. Meanwhile, in the world of museums, Contextual Wrappers 2 (led by the Cambridge Fitzwilliam museum and Collections Trust, working with Knowledge Integration) plans to extend its collection descriptions model across the HE Museums sector, informed by a grounded ‘market’ survey.  We should also highlight the efforts of Search25 (the M25 library consortium) and ServiceCore (the OU project harvesting dozens of Open Access repositories) to ensure their services address community needs.

Observation 2 – Responding to practitioner and community opinion is at the heart of Discovery aggregator thinking.

Discovery is not about a single model that fits all. However, the growing interest in Linked Open Data as an approach with a future is significant. This ranges from the Bodleian recognizing it as a vehicle for breaking down the silos that divide their own collections (the Digital.Bodleian project) to museums across the North East using linked data and supporting vocabularies in the Cutting Edge project to enable cross-searching of collections to meet the needs of very different types of users from schools to researchers. AIM25 Step Change shares the same confidence.

Observation 3 – There is a measured expectation that linked data can yield practical value for highly focused local services, as well as delivering in grand ‘web scale’ settings.

It is particularly interesting how the value of place and other geographic information is becoming leveraged in a variety of ways within the linked data model. Pelagios 2, involving Southampton and the OU with a range of international partners, is linking data to place to assist in cataloguing, annotation, search and visualization of ancient objects. Fast forward a couple of millennia and the DiscoverEDINA project is using an automated Geotagger to expose place metadata embedded in digital media files. The links of AIM25 Step Change to Historypin address the same theme.

Observation 4 – The adoption of common vocabularies seems key to making the most of key access points across the ‘web of data’ – and place looks like the early candidate for generating critical mass.

The afternoon sessions focused on the objectives of the Discovery initiative under the themes ‘Terms of Use’, ‘Data’ and ‘Interfaces’ and the underlying quest for service sustainability. On behalf of the Mimas-led Discovery team, Owen Stephens set out 12 practical measures of quality implementation, whilst recognizing that no single project will address every measure.

Terms of Use

1 – Adopting open licensing

2 – Requiring clear reasonable terms and conditions


3 – Using easily understood data models

4 – Deploying persistent identifiers

5 – Establishing data relationships by re-using authoritative identifiers


6 – Providing clear mechanisms for accessing APIs

7 – Documenting APIs

8 – Adopting widely understood data formats


9 – Ensuring data is sustainable

10 – Ensuring services are supported

11 – Using your own APIs

12 – Collecting data to measure use

Observation 5 – Whilst there is still much work to be done, Discovery is moving from abstract principles to tangible measures of practical implementation.

As you can tell, I think the plans and ambitions of these Phase 2 projects are indicative of healthy developments and increasing maturity in the wider Discovery initiative. And this is where the Discovery team led by Mimas has a vital role in supporting practical implementation beyond these institutions through case studies, guidance materials and targeted workshops … watch this space!

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