Stephen Abram has a short post today about the semantic web, linking to a post over at ReadWriteWeb. What is most interesting about this post though is not Stephen’s post (sorry Stephen!) but the comment left below it by Mark Andews. In part, Andrew says -

We’re so far behind the curve that, by the time we get some sense of Web 3.0 it will already have been surpassed. I wonder if we in LibraryLand are even aware that the Singularity is near?

As I mention in the About page of this blog, much of the technologies that are a part of the semantic web or web 3.0 really aren’t new, and the URL to the W3C’s Semantic Web Activity says it all - 2001. So in that sense, I agree with Mark. Librarians have often been behind the 8-ball, but equally they’ve been incredibly innovative but unknown outside of libraries.

But why is it that libraries are perceived to be behind the times when it comes to technological development that we can and should be in integral part of? There’s a number of possibilities to speculate about -

Libraries are (rightly) focused on services

Until now, outside of enterprises and large scale computing, the sematic web has not really been aimed at the end user. It’s only been in the last few months that sites like Twine and Freebase have emerged, and they’re still very much beta. Now that services are starting to emerge, perhaps we will see more development in libraries. Of course, Talis have been working steadily on this for some time.

There’s not enough labs in libraries

Often in libraries, we don’t really know what others are developing or thinking about until we see the finished product. And that might be an unveiling of a new product at a conference, or a blog post. And that might be a year or more after the library started developing that new service or technology. Some libraries are now taking the great step of setting up library labs where they share development work. I think this fosters a good sense of creativity and friendly competition “hey, they’re working on mashups, maybe we should look at that too!” Networking with other librarians and sharing developments is one thing, but opening up your development process and documentation is another entirely. Here are a few good examples -

National Library of Australia Library Lab - their lab focuses on using Lucene for bibliographic data
NYPL Labs - “process behind the products”
and many more

We need better consortia?

While libraries can do a lot on their own on the local level, there’s an obvious need to be involved at a higher level where more people and more resources accelerates development. But who would do this? OCLC? Or is there a better way (surely there is)? Maybe getting together with non-librarians more regularly? Check out the listing for semantic web at meetup.com and see if there is a group near you.

Whatever the reason, while it’s taken a while for libraries to investigate the semantic web, interest and discussion about it is definitely increasing, so it surely won’t be long before we start to see some semantic-based library services.