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ISAW Papers 7.2 (2014)

Linked Open Bibliographies in Ancient Studies

Phoebe Acheson

One of my main takeaways from the 2012 Linked Ancient World Data Institute was the need for a comprehensive bibliography of scholarly literature in the field of ancient studies that is both open and follows the principles of linked data (see also [Elliott 2012]). Such a resource could facilitate scholarly work across many related sub-disciplines and increase discoverability of academic studies that mention specific subjects. It would include a robust controlled vocabulary, with the ability to tag citations with stable identifiers for places and monuments, authors, texts and passages within texts, historical figures, artifacts and works of art, and themes or subjects discussed in the scholarly works included. It would allow more comprehensive identification of bibliographic items on a topic, and would facilitate the automatic feeding of scholarly citations into web sites discussing topics. Imagine, for example, a Pleiades place page (Foss et al. 2013) or an entry for an artifact at Arachne (German Archaeological Institute and University of Cologne 2013) including a feed of bibliographic citations discussing that place/artifact that automatically updated when new articles were added to the comprehensive bibliography. A similar initiative could systematically add access to scholarly literature in ancient studies to widely used information resources on the web such as Wikipedia.

There are a number of linked open data building blocks in place for bibliographic uses that could facilitate the construction of a comprehensive linked open bibliography for ancient studies. Libraries have a longstanding interest in unique identifiers and controlled vocabularies, many of which have translated to the linked open data environment fairly seamlessly. Library name authorities are now collected at the Virtual International Authority File (OCLC 2013), a collaborative resource which has shown itself open to the addition of new names and formats as scholarly disciplines present the need for them (for example, Syriac scholars: (Smith-Yoshimura and Michelson 2013)). There are several standard numbers for monographs, the most linked open data friendly of which is currently the OCLC number, since the open WorldCat database provides stable URIs for items by OCLC number as well as providing RDFa for many entries. (Wallis 2012) Control numbers for scholarly bibliographic items that are not monographs are less pervasive, but for those journals and other web publishers that have adopted it the DOI is an excellent control number for scholarly articles and other publications. (International DOI Foundation 2013) For controlled subject vocabularies, the Library of Congress Subject Headings are available as linked open data, (Library of Congress 2013) and the Getty Center has recently announced a plan to open access to its controlled vocabularies for art and archaeology. (Vocabulary Program, Getty Research Institute 2013)

Most of these building blocks are relevant to bibliographic citations as a whole, with no special focus on ancient world studies. Could they be incorporated into an existing bibliographic index in use by scholars of the classical world? L’Annee Philologique is a long-standing and comprehensive resource with special strengths in classical philology, but it is not open. (Rebillard 2013) The Archaologische Bibliographie of Projekt Dyabola has an open version (Zenon DAI: (Deutsches Archaologisches Institut 2013)) and an existing, fairly robust, subject classification, but its subject coverage is limited to archaeology. Neither has yet announced an exploration of linked open data, although L’Annee’s work with the Classical World Knowledge Base is certainly in the ballpark. (Rebillard, Chandler, and Ruddy 2013)

TOCS-IN is another bibliographic resource for ancient Mediterranean studies (with disciplinary coverage closely modeled on L’Annee Philologique) that is open-access, and run through crowdsourcing: volunteers add bibliographic citations for specific journals they agree to cover. (Matheson and Poucet 2013) Following the LAWDI 2012 workshop I experimented with placing the TOCS-IN database content into the Zotero bibliographic tool (a write-up is here: (Acheson 2012b)) The experiment was not a success because of current technological limitations of Zotero for large citation sets; I tried to add 80,000 citations to a Group Library and the sync server was overwhelmed. Another attempt in this vein could be made with more institutional support, using an open-access bibliographic repository housed on an institutional server – one currently available alternative is BibServer, which is linked open data compliant. (Open Knowledge Foundation 2012)

How can individual scholars contribute towards a linked open bibliography for ancient studies? My first recommendation is to expose bibliographic citations on the open web, ideally in a format that is friendly towards linked data, if you are developing a scholarly internet-based project or publication. Zotero, which allows the export of citations in BIBO format, is already widely used in the humanities in American academia. (Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media 2013) The Ancient World Open Bibliographies project (Acheson 2013) has been collecting open-access bibliographies in Zotero since October 2010, and increasingly scholars are creating these bibliographies within Zotero in the first place. Zotero can also serve as a storage location for a bibliography that is presented as an inherent part of a digital project: the online bibliography on Evagrius Ponticus by Joel Kalvesmaki of Dumbarton Oaks is an excellent model to follow.(Kalvesmaki 2013) Scholars can also include links to the stable URIs for people, monographs, or journal articles if they are posting bibliographic citations in web environments; I wrote some recommendations for good linking practices for bibliographic citations in a blog post shortly after LAWDI 2012.(Acheson 2012a)

A linked open bibliographic citation database for ancient studies would benefit scholars (and their students) directly, especially those at smaller or less wealthy institutions which do not subscribe to indexes, but it would also serve as a form of outreach to the broader public. While the ancient world has much inherent interest, as an academic discipline classics and related fields are also vulnerable to the charge of being old-fashioned and thus irrelevant. A linked open bibliographic database as proposed here could provide a bridge between popular (and undergraduate level) discussions of topics on the web and the more formal publications of the academic world. Academics should embrace the semantic web, as linked open data is a natural extension of the traditional scholarly practices of citation and weaving webs of references.

Works Cited

Acheson, Phoebe. 2012a. “LAWDI 3: Good Linking Practices for Bibliographic Stuff.” Becoming A Classics Librarian.

Acheson, Phoebe. 2012b. “TOCS-IN at Zotero: A Project That Didn’t Work.” Becoming a Classics Librarian. September 20.

Acheson, Phoebe. 2013. “Ancient World Open Bibliographies.” Ancient World Open Bibliographies. Accessed September 28.

Deutsches Archaologisches Institut. 2013. “DAI Zenon.” Accessed September 28.

Elliott, Tom. 2012. “Horothesia: Ancient Studies Needs Open Bibliographic Data and Associated URIs.” Horothesia.

Foss, C., S. Mitchell, R. Talbert, S. Gillies, and J. Becker. 2013. “Places: 638753 (Aphrodisias).” Pleiades. May 18.

German Archaeological Institute, and University of Cologne. 2013. “144918: Archaisierende Statuette.” Arachne. Accessed September 24.

International DOI Foundation. 2013. “The Digital Object Identifier System.” Accessed September 24.

Kalvesmaki, Joel. 2013. “Bibliography - Guide to Evagrius Ponticus.” Guide to Evagrius Ponticus. Fall.

Library of Congress. 2013. “Library of Congress Linked Data Service Authorities and Vocabularies.” Library of Congress. Accessed September 24.

Matheson, Philippa M. W., and Jacques Poucet. 2013. “Tables of Contents of Journals of Interest to Classicists.” Accessed September 28.

OCLC. 2013. “VIAF Virtual International Authority File.” VIAF. Accessed September 24.

Open Knowledge Foundation. 2012. “Bibserver.” GitHub.

Rebillard, Eric. 2013. “APh - L’Année Philologique.” Accessed September 28.

Rebillard, Eric, Adam Chandler, and David Ruddy. 2013. “Classical Works Knowledge Base.” September.

Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. 2013. “Zotero | Home.” Accessed September 28.

Smith-Yoshimura, Karen, and David Michelson. 2013. “Irreconcilable Differences? Name Authority Control & Humanities Scholarship.”

Vocabulary Program, Getty Research Institute. 2013. “Getty Vocabularies as LOD.” The Getty Research Institute. August 27.

Wallis, Richard. 2012. “Get Yourself a Linked Data Piece of WorldCat to Play With.” Data Liberate.