Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Semantic Web and Librarians At Talis

I've always believed that librarians should and will play a part in the rise of the Semantic Web and Web 3.0. I've gone into the theory and conceptual components, but really haven't discussed too much about the practical elements of how librarians will realize this. Meet Talis. Besides its contribution to the blogosphere, Talis has recently dipped into publishing with its inaugural issue of Nodalities: The Magazine of the Semantic Web. It's a wonderful read - take a look.

How did Talis come about? It's been in the works for quite a while now, and it's worth noting how it came to be. In 1969 a number of libraries founded a small co-operative project, based in Birmingham to provide services that would help the libraries become more efficient. The project was known as the Birmingham Libraries Cooperative Mechanisation Project, or BLCMP. At this time the concept of automation was so new that the term mechanisation was often used in its place.

BLCMP built a co-operative catalogue of bibliographic data at the start of its work, a database that now contains many millions of records. BLCMP moved into using microfiche and later IBM mainframes with dedicated terminals at libraries in the mid-seventies and was one of the first library automation vendors to provide a GUI on top of Microsoft Windows to provide a better interface for end-users. The Integrated Library System was first called Talis. Talis became the name of the company during re-structuring and the ILS became known as Alto. In 1995 Talis was the first library systems vendor to produce a web enabled public access catalogue. Much of Talis' work now focusses on the transition of information to the web, specifically the Semantic Web and Talis have lead much of the debate about how Web 2.0 attitudes affect traditional libraries.

How does this include librarians? This ambitious Birmingham-based software company began life in the 1970s as a university spin-off. For many years it was a co-operative owned by its customers (a network of libraries), but in 1996 it was restructured as a commercial entity. It has a well-established pedigree of supplying large-scale information management systems to the public in the UK and academic libraries: in fact, more than 60% of UK public libraries now use the company's software, which benefits some 9m library users. In 2002, the company embarked on Talis 2.0, a change programme to take advantage of "the next wave of technology" (Web 2.0 and the semantic web). In the year ending March 2004, turnover was £7.5m with profits of £226,000. Who says librarians can't make a buck, right?

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