Volume 43, no. 3/4, 2007


Jane Greenberg and Eva Méndez
Guest Editors


Introduction, Jane Greenberg and Eva Méndez, Guest Editors


PART 1: Semantic Web foundations, Standards, and Tools

The Birth of the New Web: A Foucauldian Reading of the Semantic Web
D. Grant Campbell

ABSTRACT: Foucault’s The Birth of the Clinic serves as a pattern for understanding the paradigm shifts represented by the Semantic Web. Foucault presents the history of medical practice as a 3-stage sequence of transitions: from classificatory techniques to clinical strategies, and then to anatomico-pathological strategies. In this paper, the author removes these three stages both from their medical context and from Foucault’s historical sequence, to produce a model for understanding information organization in the context of the Semantic Web. We can extract from Foucault’s theory a triadic relationship between three interpretive strategies, all of them defined by their different relationships to a textual body: classification, description and analysis.


Library cards for the 21st Century
Charles McCathieNevile and Eva Méndez

ABSTRACT: This paper presents several reflections on the traditional card catalogues and RDF (Resource Description Framework), which is "the" standard for creating the Semantic Web. This work grew out of discussion between the authors after the Working Group on Metadata Schemes meeting held at the IFLA conference in Buenos Aires (2004). The paper provides an overview of RDF from the perspective of cataloguers, catalogues and library cards. The article emphasizes resource description as a discipline, and how it could be based on RDF. RDF is explained as a very simple grammar, using metadata and ontologies for semantic search and access. RDF has the ability to enhance 21st century libraries and support metadata interoperability in digital libraries, while maintaining the expressive power that was available to librarians when catalogues were physical artifacts.


Library of Congress controlled vocabularies and their application to the Semantic Web
Corey A. Harper and Barbara B. Tillett

ABSTRACT: This article discusses how various controlled vocabularies, classification schemes and thesauri can serve as some of the building blocks of the Semantic Web. These vocabularies have been developed over the course of decades, and can be put to great use in the development of robust web services and Semantic Web technologies. The article covers how initial collaboration between the Semantic Web, Library and Metadata communities are creating partnerships to complete work in this area. It then discusses some core principles of authority control before talking more specifically about subject and genre vocabularies and name authority. It is hoped that future systems for internationally shared authority data will link the world's authority data from trusted sources to benefit users worldwide. Finally, the article looks at how encoding and markup of vocabularies can help ensure compatibility with the current and future state of Semantic Web development and provides examples of how this work can help improve the findability and navigation of information on the World Wide Web.


SKOS: Simple Knowledge Organization for the Web
Alistair Miles and José R. Pérez-Agüera

ABSTRACT: This article introduces the Simple Knowledge Organization System (SKOS), a Semantic Web language for representing controlled structured vocabularies, including thesauri, classification schemes, subject heading systems and taxonomies. SKOS provides a framework for publishing thesauri, classification schemes, and subject indexes on the Web, and for applying these systems to resource collections that are part of the Semantic Web. Semantic Web applications may harvest and merge SKOS data, to integrate and enhance retrieval service across multiple collections (e.g. libraries). This article also describes some alternatives for integrating Semantic Web services based on the Resource Description Framework (RDF) and SKOS into a distributed enterprise architecture.


Scheme Versioning in the Semantic Web
Joseph T. Tennis

ABSTRACT: This paper describes a conceptual framework and methodology for managing scheme versioning for the Semantic Web. The first part of the paper introduces the concept of vocabulary encoding schemes, distinguished from metadata schemas, and discusses the characteristics of changes in schemes. The paper then presents a proposal to use a value record--similar to a term record in thesaurus management techniques--to manage scheme versioning challenges for the Semantic Web. The conclusion identifies future research directions.


Roles for Semantic Technologies and Tools in Libraries
G. Philip Rogers

ABSTRACT: Interest is growing in Semantic technologies such as XML, XML Schema, ontologies, and ontology languages, as well as in the tools that facilitate working with such technologies. This paper examines the current library automation environment and identifies semantic tools and technologies that might be suitable for use in some libraries and other knowledge-intensive organizations.



PART 2: Semantic Web Projects and Perspectives

RDF Database for PhysNet and similar Portals
Thomas Severiens and Christian Thiemann

ABSTRACT: PhysNet (www.physnet.net) is a portal for Physics initiated in1995. The portal has been developed with an OWL-Lite ontology and mySQL database, which stores triples with the facts, such as department information, postal addresses, GPS coordinates, URLs of publication repositories etc. The articles focuses on the structure and the development of the underlying ontology, it also provides a detailed overview of an online web based editorial tool that maintains the facts database.


Biomedicine and the Semantic Web: A Knowledge Model for Visual Phenotype
John Michon, MD, MS

ABSTRACT: Semantic Web tools provide new and significant opportunities for organizing and improving the utility of biomedical information. As librarians become more involved with biomedical information, it is important for them, particularly catalogers, to be part of research teams that are employing these techniques and developing a high level interoperable biomedical infrastructure. To illustrate these principles, we used Semantic Web tools to create a knowledge model for human visual phenotypes (observable characteristics). This is an important foundation for generating associations between genomics and clinical medicine. In turn this can allow customized medical therapies and provide insights into the molecular basis of disease. The knowledge model incorporates a wide variety of clinical and genomic data including examination findings, demographics, laboratory tests, imaging and variations in DNA sequence. Information organization, storage and retrieval are facilitated through the use of metadata and the ability to make computable statements in the visual science domain. This paper presents our work, discusses the value of Semantic Web technologies in biomedicine, and identifies several important roles that library and information scientists can play in developing a more powerful biomedical information infrastructure.


Towards an Infrastructure for Semantic Applications: Methodologies for Semantic Integration of Heterogeneous Resources
Anita Liang, Gauri Salokhe, Margherita Sini, Johannes Keizer

ABSTRACT: The semantic heterogeneity of Web information in the Agricultural domain presents tremendous information retrieval challenges. This article presents work taking place at the Food and Agriculture Organizations (FAO) that addresses this challenge. Based on the analysis of resources in the domain of agriculture, this paper proposes a.) an application profile (AP) for dealing with the problem of heterogeneity originating from differences in terminologies, domain coverage, and domain modeling, and b.) a root application ontology (AAO) based on the application profile which can serve as a basis for extending knowledge of the domain. The paper explains how even a small investment in the enhancement of relations among vocabularies, both metadata and domain-specific, yield a relatively large return on investment.


FOAF: Connecting People on the Semantic Web
Mike Graves, Adam Constabaris and Dan Brickley

ABSTRACT: This article introduces the Friend of a Friend (FOAF) vocabulary specification as an example of a Semantic Web technology. A real world case study is presented in which FOAF is used to solve several specific problems of identity management. The main goal is to provide some basic theory behind the Semantic Web and then attempt to ground that theory in a practical solution.


Advancing the Semantic Web via Library Functions
Jane Greenberg

ABSTRACT: This article explores the applicability primary library functions (collection development, cataloging, reference, and circulation) to the Semantic Web. The article defines the Semantic Web, identifies similarities between the library institution and the Semantic Web, and presents research questions guiding the inquiry. The article addresses each library function and demonstrates the applicability of each function’s polices to Semantic Web development. Results indicate that library functions are applicable to Semantic Web, with "collection development" translating to "Semantic Web selection;" "cataloging" translating to "Semantic Web ‘semantic’ representation;" "reference" translating to "Semantic Web service," and "circulation" translating to "Semantic Web resource use." The last part of this article includes a discussion about the lack of embrace between the library and the Semantic Web communities, recommendations for reducing this gap, and conclusions.


Social Bibliography: A Personal Perspective on Libraries and the Semantic Web
Stuart L. Weibel

ABSTRACT: This paper presents a personal perspective on libraries and the Semantic Web. The paper discusses computing power, increased availability of processable text, social software developments and the ideas underlying Web 2.0 and the impact of these developments in the context of libraries and information. The article concludes with a discussion of social bibliography and the declining hegemony of catalog records, and emphasizes the strengths of librarianship and the profession’s ability to contribute to Semantic Web development.


Introduction by Jane Greenberg and Eva Méndez, Guest Editors

Toward a more Library-Like Web via Semantic Knitting


Over the last five years, the library community’s attention to the Semantic Web has progressed at a creeping pace. More recently—within the last year—the Semantic Web appears to be gaining greater attention by information professionals looking for answers to manage the complex world of the Web. This development is perhaps best explained by Paul Miller’s (2005; 2006) stimulating and thought provoking piece "Library 2.0" inspired, in part, by Tim O’Reilly’s (2005) highly influential "What Is Web 2.0." Part of Miller’s central thesis is that the rich untapped structured data sources which libraries possess need to be exposed and mined. He believes the 21st century library is obligated to expose its rich data and provide a new level of service, information access, and knowledge discovery for the good of its users and citizens at large. Miller’s Library 2.0 integrates with the foundation ideas and evolution of the Semantic Web, and invites librarians to think outside the box and actively engage in the development of the Semantic Web. This special volume demonstrates that librarians and other information professionals, including people involved in information intensive work (e.g., medical doctors), are taking Miller’s advice and building a more library-like World Wide Web (Web) through what we call "semantic knitting."

The Semantic Web and Underlying Principles

The Semantic Web represents Berners-Lee’s initial idea of the Web, and is defined as "an extension of the current Web in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation" (Berners-Lee, et al, 2001). In more conventional terms, Connolly (1998) explains that the Semantic Web will relieve him from the "bane of my [his] existence" of performing mundane tasks that he knows a computer can perform for him (e.g., searching for a doctor who accepts his health insurance plan).

The Semantic Web requires that information bearing entities on the Web be tagged with machine-processable meaning (semantic metadata) in a standard way. The standardization will enable the exchange, use, and reuse of information. Tagging entities with ontological or other standard values will result in a semantically knitted network that can support computational activities and provide people with services efficiently. A fundamental component to this activity is the development, registration, and sharing of metadata schemas and ontologies.

Koivunen and Miller (2001) identify the following principles to guide Semantic Web development:

  1. Everything can be identified by URI's (Uniform Resource Identifier). People, places, things, and attributes about these entities can all be identified with an URI.
  2. Resources and links have types. Identifying relationships such as "is version of," "has subject," and "is author" make data machine processable.
  3. Partial information is tolerated. There is no limit on the encoding of entities (resource, links, and relationships).
  4. There is no need for absolute truth. Truth of information on the Web cannot be guaranteed, but Semantic Web agents will be able to determine what information is trustworthy via context.
  5. Evolution is supported. The Semantic Web is organic, and new information can be added to older information.
  6. Minimalist design. The goal is to standardize no more than is necessary; "When we use the Semantic Web technologies the result should offer much more possibilities than the sum of the parts."

Although these principles emphasize the simplicity of the Semantic Web, they are only valuable if there is a means by which they can be achieved. Concrete examples demonstrating these principles are needed to motivate Semantic Web development. This volume contributes to this need by presenting Semantic Web foundations, projects, and philosophical ideas.

Status of the Semantic Web

We teach in the area of organizing information and digital content and data management. We encourage students to read about the Semantic Web, explore Semantic Web developments, and think critically about the Semantic Web’s future. At times we are challenged when discussing the Semantic Web, particularly when students and colleagues ask: "Where is it [The Semantic Web]?" "Can I see the Semantic Web in operation?" and "What about privacy issues?" Our replies to such questions generally unfold in the following order: Semantic Web development is underway with enabling technologies and standards, such as the Resource Description Framework (RDF), Web Ontology Language (OWL), Friend Of A Friend (FOAF), and the newest language Simple Knowledge Organizations System (SKOS). We also point to RSS (RDF Site Summary / Really Simple Syndication), which incorporates RDF and has had a global impact on the Web-based news syndications. These technologies provide the technical backbone required to form the Semantic Web’s infrastructure. These technologies have also motivated the development of Semantic Web tools and projects (Table 1) helping to form an infrastructure that allows information to be digested in used in new ways as envisioned by Berners-Lee.

Table 1: Examples of Semantic Web Tools and Projects

Table 1: Examples of Semantic Web Tools and Projects

Notwithstanding Semantic Web progress (e.g., Table 1), it would be incorrect to say that these developments support a mature Semantic Web. In other words, when asked if the Semantic Web currently supports agents scheduling personal appointments or planning a vacation to Hawaii, we reply "no." We can, however, look at online calendaring applications and travel services, such as Expedia.com, and see semantic components that could be harvested for Semantic Web development. Despite these developments, current Semantic Web limitations have led to criticism (Marshall, 2004; Shirky, 2003). Criticism is useful for addressing current short comings and planning the next step in developing a Semantic Web. The downside of criticisms is that they often fail to note where important progress has been made.

What is important and stands as evidence of major progress is the wide range of communities with a growing interest in information standards, data interoperability, and open information. Never in our time has there been a more universal interest in producing structured, standardized information. The idea of the Semantic Web initiative will, at the very least, help many more initiatives to benefit from standardized organization and access to information. We conclude then, that the Semantic Web is being knitted. We may not create one big knitted snug blanket, although the number of Semantic Web projects is growing, and they can be knitted together via standards for more powerful computing operations than previously possible.

Purpose of this Volume

The overall purpose of this special volume is to explore the Semantic Web initiative. More specifically, the goals are to:

Library science is a cross-domain discipline that has always involved experts from a variety of disciplines (e.g., library science, computer science, and people with topical subject expertise). One reason for this is that libraries can be found with collection holdings documenting any discipline. Another related reason is that a library can be found serving nearly any type of client. The Semantic Web needs librarians and informational professionals not only because of their experience and expertise with standards and bibliographic control, but their experience and expertise as information custodians for the last several hundred years (Greenberg, 2006). In short, we have edited this special volume because we firmly believe that librarians can play a significant role in developing the Semantic Web.

Why Knitting the Semantic Web?

We have chosen to present the articles in this volume in the context knitting for the following reasons:

Framework for this Volume

Knitting the Semantic Web is arranged into two parts. Part 1 addresses Semantic Web foundations, standards, and tools; and Part 2 presents Semantic Web projects and perspectives.

Part one begins with a foundation article by Campbell discussing how Foucault’s The Birth of the Clinic serves as a pattern for understanding the paradigm shifts represented by the Semantic Web. This work is followed by McCathieNevile and Méndez’s work on RDF, its expressive power, and its ability to underlie the new Library catalog card of the 21st century. Harper and Tillett then explore Library of Congress controlled vocabularies and their value and application for developing the Semantic Web. Next, Miles and Pérez Agüera introduce the newest Semantic Web language, Simple Knowledge Organization System (SKOS), which is for representing controlled structured vocabularies, including thesauri, classification schemes, subject heading systems and taxonomies. This work is followed by Tennis’ presentation of a conceptual framework and a methodology for managing scheme versioning in the Semantic Web. Part 1 concludes with Rogers’ review of semantic tools and technologies that libraries and other knowledge-intensive organizations can use for building Semantic Web projects.

Part 2 of this volume begins with an article by Severiens and Thiemann presenting their RDF triples database, Physnet, a Semantic Web portal service for physics. This article is followed by Michon’s article on the value of Semantic Web technologies in biomedicine and his work, which is grounded in RDF. Michon, a medical doctor, also identifies several important roles that library and information scientists can play in developing a more powerful biomedical information infrastructure in the context of the Semantic Web. Next, is an article by Liang, Salokhe, Sini, and Keizer presenting the intellectual processes and technical specifications for developing the United Nations, Food and Agriculture’s ontology. This work is followed by a piece by Graves, Constabaris, and Brickley introducing the Semantic Web’s Friend Of A Friend (FOAF) vocabulary specification, and also presenting a real world case study of FOAF for solving specific identity management problems in an information technology department at a University. Greenberg then presents a deductive analysis on the applicability of primary library functions (collection development, cataloging, reference, and circulation) to Semantic Web development. The last article is a perspective piece by Stuart Weibel, founder of the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, one of the most significant programs bringing together members of the library and Semantic Web communities. In this concluding article, Weibel provides a personal perspective on libraries and the Semantic Web in the context of social bibliography.


Librarians have the intellectual knowledge and skills required to work with Semantic Web enabling technologies (e.g., XML, RDF). We do not need to be computer programmers to do this, as there are many tools available to aid our use of these standards (see the Rogers contribution). What is important is that we are experts in developing information standards, and, most importantly we have the most sophisticated skills and experience in knowledge representation. In sum, if librarians transfer their skills to the semantic knitting required for a Semantic Web, we can help build a better Web.


We would like to acknowledge all of the authors for their contributions to this volume. We would also like to thank Sandy Roe and the CCQ’s Editorial Board and for their support of this special issue. We would also like to thank the Fulbright Program for support that allowed Eva Méndez to work as EU Research Scholar at the SILS Metadata Research Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, over the last year to complete this book.



Berners-Lee, T. (1999). Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by its Inventor. San Francisco: Harper.

Berners-Lee, T., Hendler, J. and Lassila, O. (2001). The Semantic Web. Scientific American, 284(5): 34-43. Also available at: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=00048144-10D2-1C70-84A9809EC588EF21.

Connolly, D. (1998). The XML Revolution. World Wide Web Consortium: http://www.w3.org/People/Connolly/9810xn.html.

Fensel, D., Wahlster, W., Lieberman, H., and Hendler, J. (Eds.) (2003). Spinning the Semantic Web: Bringing the World Wide Web to its Full Potential. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.

Greenberg, J. (2006, in press). Advancing Semantic Web via Library Functions. Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, 43 (3-4).

Greenberg, M. (1996). Bolivia: Women's Knitting Cooperative. South American Explorer Issue, 45: 8-15.

Hjelm, J. (2001). Creating the Semantic Web with RDF: Professional Developer’s Guide. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Koivunen, M. and Miller E. (2001). W3C Semantic Web Activity. E. Hyvönen (Ed.). Semantic Web Kick-Off in Finland: Vision, Technologies, Research, and Applications. Helsinki Institute for Information Technology (HIIT), Helsinki, Finland. May 19, 2002, pp. 27-43. Also available online at: http://www.cs.helsinki.fi/u/eahyvone/stes/semanticweb/kick-off/proceedings.pdf, and http://www.w3.org/2001/12/semweb-fin/w3csw.

Marshall, C. (2004). Taking a Stand on the Semantic Web. Texas: Center for the Study of Digital Libraries: http://www.csdl.tamu.edu/~marshall/mc-semantic-web.html.

Miller, P. (2005). Web 2.0: Building the New Library. Ariadne, 45: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue45/miller.

Miller, P. (2006). Coming Together around Library 2.0: A Focus for Discussion and a Call to Arms. D-Lib Magazine, 12(4): http://www.dlib.org/dlib/april06/miller/04miller.html.

O'Reilly, T. (2005). What Is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software. O’ReillyNet: http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html.

Shirky, C. (2003). The Semantic Web, Syllogism, and Worldview. [First published on the Networks, Economics, and Culture mailing list.]: http://www.shirky.com/writings/semantic_syllogism.html.


1 The Big Knit In: http://www.knitin.co.uk/; Anglicare Knit-in 2006: http://www.abc.net.au/perth/knitin/default.htm.
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2 Celebrity Knitters… Look Who’s Knitting: http://www.worldknit.com/celebrityknitters.html.
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