“Speaking the same language is one thing, understanding what the other is saying is another…” Carl Wilson at the Succeed technical workshop on the interoperability of digitization platforms.
Interoperability is a term widely used to describe the ability of making systems and organisations work together (inter-operate). However, interoperability is not just about the technical requirements for information exchange. In a broader definition, it also includes social, political, and organisational factors that impact system to system performance and is related to questions of (commercial) power and market dominance .
On 2 October 2014, the Succeed project organised a technical workshop on the interoperability of digitization platforms at the National library of the Netherlands in The Hague. 19 researchers, librarians, and computer scientists from several European countries participated in the workshop.
More pictures here.
In preparation of the workshop, the Succeed project team had asked participants to fill out a questionnaire containing several questions on the topic of interoperability. The questionnaire was filled out by 12 participants; the results were presented during the workshop. The programme included a number of presentations and several interactive sessions to come to a shared view on what interoperability is about, what are the main issues and barriers to be dealt with, and how we should approach these.
The main goals of the workshop were:
1. Establishing a baseline for interoperability based on the questionnaire and presentations of the participants
2. Formulating a common statement on the value of interoperability
3. Defining the ideal situation with regard to interoperability?
4. Identifying the most important barriers
5. Formulating an agenda & collect input for the roadmap document
Presentation by Carl Wilson
To establish a baseline (what is interoperability and what is its current status in relation to digitization platforms), our programme included a number of presentations. We invited Carl Wilson of the Open Preservation Foundation (previously the Open Planets Foundation) for the opening speech. He set the scene by sharing a number of historical examples (in IT and beyond) of interoperability issues. Carl made clear that interoperability in IT has many dimensions:
- Syntactical interoperability (aligning metadata formats); “speaking the same language”
- Semantical interoperability; “understanding each other”
- Legal (IPR)
- When approaching operability issues, it might help to take into account these basic rules:
- Test early (automated testing, virtualisation)
- Test often
Finally, Carl stressed that the importance of interoperability will further increase with the rise of the Internet of Things, as it involves more frequent information exchange between more and more devices.
The Succeed Interoperability platform
After Carl Wilson’s introductory speech, Enrique Molla from the University of Alicante (UA is project leader of the Succeed project) presented the Succeed Interoperability framework, which allows users to test and combine a number of digitization tools. The tools are made available as web services by a number of different providers, which allow the user to try them out online without having to install any of these tools locally. The Succeed project met with a number of interoperability related issues when developing the platform. For instance, the web services have a number of different suppliers; some of them are not maintaining their services. Moreover, the providers of the web services often have commercial interests, which means that they impose limits such as a maximum number of users of pages tested through the tools.
Presentations by participants
After the demonstration of the Succeed Interoperability platform, the floor was open for the other participants, many of whom had prepared a presentation about their own project and their experience with issues of interoperability.
Bert Lemmens presented the first results of the Preforma Pre-Commercial Procurement project (running January 2014 to December 2017). A survey performed by the project made clear that (technically) open formats are in many cases not the same as libre/ open source formats. Moreover, even when standard formats are used across different projects, they are often implemented in multiple ways. And finally, when a project or institution has found their technically appropriate format, they may often find that limited support is available on how to adopt the format.
Gustavo Candela Romero gave an overview of the services provided by the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes (BVMC) www.cervantesvirtual.com The BVMC developed their service oriented architecture with the purpose of facilitating online access to Hispanic Culture. The BVMC offers their data as OAI-PMH, allowing other institutions or researchers to harvest their content. Moreover, the BVMC is working towards publishing their resources in RDF and making it available through a SPARQL Endpoint.
Alastair Dunning & Pavel Kats explained how Europeana and The European Library are working towards a shared storage system for aggregators with shared tools for the ingestion and mapping process. This will have practical and financial benefits, as shared tools will reduce workflow complexity, are easier to sustain and, finally, cheaper.
Clara Martínez Cantón presented the work of the Digital Humanities Innovation Lab (LINHD) , the research centre on Digital Humanities at the National Distance Education University (UNED) in Spain. The LINHD encourages researchers to make use of Linked Data. Clara showed the advantages of using Linked Data in a number of research projects related to metrical repertoires. In these projects, a number of interoperability issues (such as a variety of structures of the data, different systems used, and variation in the levels of access) were by-passed by making use of a Linked Data Model.
Marc Kemps-Snijders made clear how the Meertens Institute strives to make collections and technological advances available to the research community and the general public by providing technical support and developing applications. Moreover, the Meertens Institute is involved in a number of projects related to interoperability, such as Nederlab and CLARIN.
Menzo Windhouwer further elaborated on the projects deployed by CLARIN (Common Language Resources and Technology Infrastructure). CLARIN is a European collaborative effort to create, coordinate and make language resources and technology available and readily useable. CLARIN is involved in setting technical standards and creating recommendations for specific topics. CLARIN has initiated the Component MetaData Infrastructure (CMDI), which is an integrated semantic layer toachieve semantic interoperability and overcome the differences between different metadata structures.
Presentation of responses to the Succeed questionnaire and overview of issues mentioned
To wrap up the first part of the programme, and to present an overview of the experiences and issues described by the participants, Rafael Carrasco from the University of Alicante presented the results of the Succeed online questionnaire (see also below).
Most instutions which filled out the questionnaire made clear that they are already addressing interoperability issues. They are mainly focusing on technical aspects, such as the normalization of resources or data and the creation of an interoperable architecture and interface. The motives for striving for interoperability were threefold: there is a clear demand by users; interoperability means an improved quality of service; and interoperability through cooperation with partner institutions brings many benefits to the institutions themselves. The most important benefits mentioned were: to create a single point of access (i.e., a better service to users), and to reduce the cost of software maintenance.
Tomasz Parkola and Sieta Neuerburg proceeded by recapturing the issues presented in the presentations. Clearly, all issues mentioned by participants could be placed in one of the dimensions introduced by Carl Wilson, i.e. Technical, Organizational/ Political, Financial, or Legal.
Sieta Neuerburg, Koninklijke BibliotheeK (National Library of the Netherlands).