On Tuesday, June 6th, I flew to Indianapolis for the 32nd annual NASIG Conference. This was my first NASIG Conference since 2012 that I wasn’t on (or going onto) the Executive Board, but I still had to get to the conference early, because I got roped into being the Chair of the 2017 Programming Planning Committee. I had to get in early to make sure everything was set up properly for the preconference workshops and to attend the Executive Board meeting with a committee update. The conference proper didn’t begin until Thursday.

Unfortunately, because I was Chair of the Program Planning Committee, I had some duties that prevented me from fully enjoying the programming I helped plan, but I did attend some very good sessions. One such program was the first keynote of the conference by Michel Dumontier, a professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, whose talk was called “Advancing Discovery Science with FAIR Data Stewardship.” Dumontier began by arguing the discouraging position that most published research findings are false. Research findings are non-reproducible in 64% of psychological studies, and between 65-89% of pharmaceutical studies. This isn’t because scientists are dishonest, but rather because: 1) science is hard, 2) statistics aren’t sufficient, and 3) biology is unruly. To combat the problem of non-reproducible research findings, Dumontier co-founded Bio2RDF, an open source project that uses semantic web technologies to make it easier to use and reuse biomedical data. Bio2RDF seeks to end the practice of discarding the data for scientific projects after they are over, by preserving the data and making it reusable. Dumontier and his colleagues hope to achieve this by advancing the principles of FAIR data stewardship. FAIR stands for Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable. He argues that these principles should be applied to all digital resources. The principles do not specify what semantic technologies one should use, so long as the principles are adhered to. Advocates of FAIR principles have developed a FAIRness Index, which is a collection of metrics that are aligned to FAIR principles and can be applied to resources to determine how FAIR they are. Dumontier hopes that by following FAIR principles to do genuine semantic publishing, where published online material is structured so that it fits into the semantic web immediately upon publication. It’s pretty ambitious stuff, but exciting.

Another good session I attended was “Bringing It All Together: Mapping Continuing Resources Vocabularies for Linked Data Discovery” by Andrew Senior of McGill University. Senior began by defining an ontology as a set of assertions that are meant to model some particular domain, and listed some of the major ontologies that are used to describe serials, including BIBFRAME, PRESSoo, schema.org, and RDA. These ontologies can be used to structure data for the linked open data environment, but the problem is, as Senior noted, linked open data is the Wild West. The guiding principle of the field can be described as AAA – Anyone can say Anything about Anything. That means that things can shift and authority is ephemeral. Senior argued that there are points of alignment between the various serials-describing ontologies (BIBFRAME, schema.org, RDA, etc.), but there are also a lot of points where the alignment breaks down. So, where do we go with such a chaotic scene? Senior’s bottom-line recommendation was that we should put persistent URIs into our cataloging data, so we can have a hybrid model as we move to a more fully linked data environment. I found his willingness to commit to a specific suggestion to be refreshing, after the somewhat dispiriting confusion regarding linked data that I have seen in the cataloging community over recent months (I’ve started to feel like not only are there w no “best practices,” there are no “half-way decent practices”). Senior ended his presentation with the optimistic pitch that because change and revision is at the heart of serials description, serials catalogers like me are well-positioned to contribute advice to the linked open data field. We’re used to confusion and ambiguity!

I actually loved the closing keynote of the conference, “The Secret Life of Comics: Socializing and Seriality” by Carol Tilley of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I’ve been waiting to see a presentation like Tilley’s to a large group of librarians for 20 years. I wrote my Master’s Paper in library school in 1998 on comic books as pro-war propaganda before Pearl Harbor, and argued that research in comics can be interesting and instructive, and that libraries should collect these materials to facilitate this kind of research. Tilley’s presentation essentially made the same argument, but in a much more engaging and erudite manner. The linchpin of her argument was that “comics tell stories and communicate ideas.” As such, they are worthy of study and therefore worthy of collecting and preserving as part of the intellectual record. I could go on-and-on about Tilley’s presentation, but I’ll spare you (although I’d be more than willing to talk to you about it in person). NASIG recorded Tilley’s presentation, as well as Michel Dumontier’s and a keynote by April Hathcock that I didn’t discuss, and when the video links are available, I will update this post and add them, if anyone is interested in seeing the whole things for themselves.

Here are the links!

Michel Dumontier – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=St60wLyEoTQ

April Hathcock – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhLC8w8OLww

Carol Tilley – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRWd7nDO1d4