Jonathan Gray of the Open Knowledge Foundation has a thought provoking post on the need for an Open Bibliographic Service which he calls Bibliographica. As he writes:
lists of publications are an absolutely critical part of scholarship. They articulate the contours of a body of knowledge, and define the scope and focus of scholarly enquiry in a given domain. Furthermore such lists are always changing. Books and articles are published and translated all the time. Works fall in and out of fashion. ‘Secondary’ reference works can become obsolete – considered interesting more for what they say about a particular intellectual period than what they say about their subject matter.
I’ve been working on my own book as an independent researcher and wanted to know common books and articles in the area. As a user I wanted to know what was published in a particular area and what the points of commonality are to identify key works. Jonathan’s idea would be a help for this and, perhaps more importantly, provide a shared platform form.
As he identifies, sites like Amazon and LibraryThing allow for the user to create lists of books but over time, fashions change and books fall into and out of favour. Being able to compile searchable, sortable lists would allow the user to develop comprehensive lists (and also allow the intellectual historian to figure out zeitgeist’s from lists) and also realise the web’s potential for knowledge sharing which should go beyond mere surfing and into finding the source material and perhaps surprising links between data sets.
His specification, I think, offers a fertile starting point. It appears to source from and link to existing sources rather than re-invent the wheel and to also use existing technologies and ontologies like MARC and Dublin Core. I think that the specification is also sensible in its identification of users and groups to create and edit lists. It mentions that the service could be run by individual universities but what would be extremely useful (but perhaps would not happen) if these silos could then link to each other via interfaces to create continually updated communal resources rather than being individual silos.
Perhaps this is a slightly off topic thought but I’d love to know which books referred to each other, so that we could examine whether Foo writing Bar read the book by Baz which would be an indicator of influence.
The Bibliographica idea mixes “traditional” scholarship with crowd sourcing and is a sensible and potentially useful idea and service. I think it would need to build a critical mass of data and sources to be really useful but it could encourage use of resources.
UPDATE: Just one of those thoughts I had whilst making some lemon tea. Actually one of the challenges would be normalising the data sources to update the sources and pull in from the external sources.