Continuing on the theme of trust as a key component of the Semantic Web, and hot on the heels of Hakia’s announcement that they would seek help from librarians to build their search engine with credible websites, comes the announcement a few weeks ago of Reference Extract, this time from inside the library world. This project is being headed by two well-known LIS academics, Mike Eisenberg and David Lankes, and is cooperatively developed by Syracuse University, the University of Washington and OCLC with grant funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. I’m particularly interested in Lankes’ involvement as he has spoken regularly about the concept of participatory librarianship, and is interested in discoverability of library resources.

Instead of actively having to select sites as being credible as in Hakia’s model, Reference Extract will instead do as its title suggests, and mine data about websites that librarians recommend in virtual reference queries. While this is an interesting, low impact approach, I still wonder about how qualified we librarians actually are to assess credibility. Yes we can look for the mechanics in a site to determine if it looks authentic, but a subject expert may be more able to speak to the content, especially as misleading sites are harder and harder to tell apart from authentic ones purely by surface examination.

I also wonder, how many sites do librarians recommend in virtual reference inquiries? In my experience, librarians don’t recommend websites all that often in an academic environment other than online subscribed content, a few government sites, and depending on the client, repositories and preprint archives.

I am interested to see how this project progresses and the kinds of results that emerge. How often are government sites recommended? Professional association sites? UN sites? What else do, or should, we recommend? How often do we point clients to open access journals and repositories?

It’s still early days for the project, as Barbara Quint notes in ”The Wisdom of Crowds of Librarians Is on the Way-In Time: Reference Extract“,

“Over the next 2 months, the team will conduct a variety of meetings and solicit comments with a blog on the website. They will release news and notes, hold webinars, appear at a national conference, and even stream a video blog. All this is aimed at creating a proposal which, according to Lankes, they “hope to implement next year, building it and running it by people and then rolling out real services sometime in 2010.”

There’s more commentary about Reference Abstract available at -

  1. Calling all librarians – Reference Abstract, Allan’s Library
  2. Reference Extract in the Press, Reference Abstract blog
  3. OCLC, Syracuse University and University of Washington to help develop a new Web search experience based on expertise from librarians
  4. The Wisdom of Crowds of Librarians Is on the Way-In Time: Reference Extract, Infotoday Newsbreaks, November 24 2008

Originally published on the blog