Not so simple schemas

Over on Twitter, there’s been a few remarks from the UK about linked data and the desire to have, apparently, one schema or set of tags to rule them all. Nick Poole of the Collections Trust kicked off the discussion with his post about making museum information accessible online, in which he suggested that museums enter data into a template, which could then be marked up for online content ( He suggested as a possible solution.  In response, Richard Light, a freelance information designer, provided a critique and suggested that the problem is more about ensuring that data is structured appropriately in the first place (, both for the institution and for the collection level data.

As my poor students will tell you, I’m quite keen on structuring the data appropriately.  The International Council of Archives has already provided the International Standard for Describing Institution with Archival Holdings (ISDIAH), which could easily be expanded to other types of collecting institutions, and organisations with collections. It would provide, as Nick Poole suggested, not just the name, address and contact details of the institution, but it also includes many of the other elements that Nick identified. Much of the data can then be exported in Dublin Core, or EAD format, both of which are well accepted, and for which crosswalks to RDFa and JSON already exist.  Rather than creating new terms and vocabularies, maybe we should start by simply sharing and comparing standards of description and structuring our data in similar ways?




‘Hackers have power…”

It seems an odd conjunction of terms, doesn’t it? A hack used to be someone who would write anything on any topic, provided they were paid. The content and the writing were often sub-optimal. More recently, hackers broke into secure databases, placed viruses and other nasties in code, and generally made themselves unpopular – and were definitely sub-optimal.  But as with other terms, the word hacker has had a bit of a facelift recently.

According to Kira Baker-Doyle:

a hacker is a person that

takes ideas, things, and practices and re-makes them or re-names them in order to produce something new or different. People who hack are the people who can re-shape oppressive structures in our society.


This definition can be seen at work in the great, based at the  National Archives, UK, and in their 2012 ‘Hack on the records’ project (one example is the UK War Cabinet site). It is also the concept behind #GovHack (, which takes place across Australia on the weekend of 11-13 July.

GovHack is inviting hackers to make socially useful applications and programs using government data. The National Library and National Archives are involved, and I’m hoping to be able to promote some of the great collections held by State and local government archives when I attend as a data mentor at GovHackPerth.  If you are involved with open government data, or have an idea for a great application, then I urge you to contact the organisers to see how you can contribute.