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CODE4LIB  January 2014

CODE4LIB January 2014

Subject:

Re: rdf ontologies for archival descriptions

From:

Ben Companjen <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Code for Libraries <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 20 Jan 2014 02:10:41 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (282 lines)

Hi Eric,

While I'm no archivist by training (information systems engineer I am),
I've learned a thing or two from having to work with EAD and its basis for
use, ISAD(G) (all citations below are from ISAD(G), 2nd edition). As with
all information modelling, either inside or outside the Linked Data
domain, you should take a step back to look at the goal of the
description. When you have a list of what you want to describe, you can
start looking for ontologies.

You probably know this, but I was triggered by "Because many archival
descriptions are rooted in MARC
    records, and MODS is easily mapped from MARC." to respond. IMO
archival descriptions are rooted in rules for description, not a specific
file format.

So, when I of (some of) the essences of archival description, I think of:

- "The purpose of archival description is to identify and explain the
context and content of archival material in order to promote its
accessibility. This is achieved by creating accurate and appropriate
representations and by organizing them in accordance with predetermined
models." (§I.2)
- "… seven areas of descriptive information:
  1. Identity Statement Area
     (where essential information is conveyed to identify the unit of
description)
  2. Context Area
     (where information is conveyed about the origin and custody of the
unit of description)
  3. Content and Structure Area
     (where information is conveyed about the subject matter and
arrangement of the unit of description)
  4. Condition of Access and Use Area
     (where information is conveyed about the availability of the unit of
description)
  5. Allied Materials Area
     (where information is conveyed about materials having an important
relationship to the unit of description)
  6. Note Area
     (where specialized information and information that cannot be
accommodated in any of the other areas may be conveyed).
  7. Description Control Area
     (where information is conveyed on how, when and by whom the archival
description was prepared)." (§I.11)

						
					
There is a distinction between the thing being described, and the
description itself, and both have an important role within the archival
description. (If anything so far causes confusion with anyone here, I
misunderstood and accept to be corrected :))
NB: this is one way of thinking of descriptions. Incorporating the
PROV-ontology would make sense for expressing more/other aspects of the
provenance of archival entities, but I haven't got round to becoming an
expert of PROV yet ;)


ISAD(G) lists 26 "elements that may be combined to constitute the
description of an archival entity".

Trying to translate these 'elements', I'd end up with possible a lot more
than 26 RDFS/OWL properties.
*Depending on the type of archival entity you can/should of course use
more specific ontologies.*
						
					

Let me list some properties and related ontologies.

				
			
		
	
# Identity statement area

## Identifiers
The URI, naturally, and other IDs. Could be linked using
dc(terms):identifier, or mods:identifier, or other ontologies. Ideally
there is some way of linking the domain of the ID to the ID itself,
because "box 101" is likely not unique in the universe. Perhaps you want
to publish a URI strategy separately to explain how the URI was
assembled/derived.

## Title
Again DC(terms), MODS, RDA

## Date(s)
You want properties that have a clear meaning. For example,
dcterms:created and mods:dateCreated assume it is clear what "when the
resource was created" means. DC terms are vague, I mean general, on
purpose. You could create some properties `owl:subPropertyOf` dcterms date
properties for this.
I'd look into EDTF for encoding uncertain dates and ranges and BCE dates
(MODS doesn't support BCE dates).

## Level of description
What kind of 'documentary unit' does the description describe? A whole
building's content or one piece of paper? I don't know of any ontology
with terms "fonds", …, "file", "item", but you could say `<http URI>
rdf:type <fonds class URI>`.

## Extent and medium
Saying anything about extent and medium should possible only happen on the
lowest level of description. Any higher level extent and medium should be
calculated by aggregating lower level descriptions.
On the lowest level, refer to class URIs. A combination of dimensions and
material {c|sh}ould be a class, e.g. A4 paper 80 grams/square meter.

# Context area

## Creator(s) and administrative/biographical history
As ISAD(G) refers to ISAAR(CPF) for description of corporate bodies,
people, and families, this is a perfect example of using existing people-
and organisation-describing ontologies like FOAF, BIO, ORG, and others are
useful for separate descriptions of the people and organisations involved.
You want specific properties to describe the roles of these 'agents' in
the history of the archival entity…

## Archival history and Immediate source of acquisition or transfer
… and you would want them 'here' (of course there is no particular order
in which these properties are used). PREMIS and PROV come to mind first
for recording who did what to what, (where and?) when and with what
result. There are probably some ontologies describing possible "events" as
RDFS/OWL classes, so you could link to those.
The immediate source of acquisition or transfer may be just another event.

# Content and structure area

## Scope and content
Descriptions, keywords, terms from authority files about "scope (such as,
time periods, geography) and content, (such as documentary forms, subject
matter, administrative processes) … appropriate to the level of
description.": pretty natural fit for links to SKOS thesauri and other
ontologies of real-world 'things'.
One might think of dcterms:subject, dcterms:description,
dcterms:temporalCoverage etc., but describing *how* exactly such terms
relate to the archival entity needs more specific properties than
"subject" et al.

## Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information
Reasons for including things and (possibly) removal of archival entities
should go very well in rules, and some types of rules go very well in
ontologies. Making this up as I type: <class of letters written by the
head of state> rdfs:subClassOf <class of 'things to be kept'>. The actual
selection and destruction actions could be modelled in the same way as
other actions are described for provenance.

## Accruals
Whether more content can be expected probably depends on other properties
of the archival entity, like its type(s) and creator(s). I don't know
about specific properties to record this, but <class of living heads of
state archival entities> rdfs:subClassOf <class of 'living' archival
entities>? There are ways of modelling rules for this, like the Rules
Interchange Format, but the rules may be defined by the archives and
archivists.

## System of arrangement
Thinking about this, I tend to think of a collection of keywords to
describe the arrangement of a low-level archival entity like a folder or
box: alphabetical, as found on deceased's desk. But there is more, of
course. Perhaps using the Collection Ontology for low levels could help
generate higher level 'systems of arrangement'.

# Conditions of access and use area

## Conditions governing access and Conditions governing reproduction
You can describe rights with the Creative Commons Rights Expression
Language. 

## Language of material
mods:language maybe? Preferably used on sub-document level and generated
for higher-level descriptions.

## Physical characteristics / technical requirements
Conditions should follow from their respective properties: <class of
PDF/A-1b files> ..:requiresForReading <class of PDF/A-1b readers> and
rules that say documents in <class A> are embargoed for 20 years after
creation + a creation date can present enough information to the agent to
determine dcterms:dateAvailable.


## Finding aids
As a non-archivist I had some trouble understanding the difference between
descriptions and finding aids and what the exact use of a finding aid was.
Also, having grown up with search engines, indexes, I think the concept
may eventually become extinct. I guess you could use foaf:page to link a
document-like finding aid to the archival entity and rdfs:seeAlso to point
to machine-actionable related things.

# Allied materials area

## Existence and location of originals/copies
PROV can be used to link a copy to an original (and how the copy was
created etc.). `<X> prov:wasDerivedFrom <Y>. <Y> :isAt <AnotherArchive>.`

## Related units of description / Publication note
Use properties that describe the specific relations among archival
entities. DC Terms has some useful ones, like for citations. Related items
can be derived from all or selected properties automatically too.

# Notes area
## Notes
dcterms:description? Unlike a document containing rules that needs to be
finished at some time, Linked Data has no such rule. You can always create
a property with a well-defined meaning to use for specific information.

# Description control area

## Archivist's note / dates of description
Who did what when, where, why and how to the description itself. Same as
for the unit of description itself.
This may be a good time to draw a bit more attention to the question:
*what is a description?*
I don't have a (/ there is no) final answer, but as The One True Written
Paper Description from long ago is becoming a set of triples, you want to
think about it. You could link versions of RDF documents using PROV to
record this information.

## Rules and conventions
A link to the rules and conventions for description. Could also fit with
the PROV provenance.



No, this is not a list of ontologies to use/explore right away, but I hope
you (and others) find it helpful, or perhaps even food for discussion.
Also, have a look at CIDOC-CRM. It has lots of properties.

Regards,

Ben

On 19-01-14 03:39, "Eric Lease Morgan" <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>If you were to select a set of RDF ontologies intended to be used in the
>linked data of archival descriptions, then what ontologies would you
>select?
>
>
>  * Dublin Core Terms - This ontology is rather bibliographic in
>    nature, and provides a decent framework for describing much of
>    the content of archival descriptions.
>
>  * FOAF - Archival collections often originate from individual
>    people. Such is the scope of FOAF, and FOAF is used by a number
>    of other sets of linked data.
>
>  * MODS - Because many archival descriptions are rooted in MARC
>    records, and MODS is easily mapped from MARC.
>
>  * Schema.org - This is an up-and-coming ontology heralded by the
>    600-pound gorillas in the room -- Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, etc.
>    While the ontology has not been put into practice for very long,
>    it is growing and wide ranging.
>
>  * RDF - This ontology is necessary because linked data is
>    manifested as... RDF
>
>  * RDFS - This ontology may be necessary because the archival
>    community may be creating some of its own ontologies.
>
>  * OWL and SKOS - Both of these ontologies seem to be used to
>    denote relationships between terms in other ontologies. In this
>    way they are used to create classification schemes and thesauri.
>    For example, they allow the implementor to denote "creator" in one
>    ontology is the same as "author" in another ontology. Or they
>    allow "country" in one ontology to be denoted as a parent
>    geographic term for "city" in another ontology.
>
>While some or all of these ontologies may be useful for linked data of
>archival descriptions, what might some other ontologies include?
>(Remember, it is often "better" to select existing ontologies rather than
>inventing, unless there is something distinctly unique about a particular
>domain.) For example, how about an ontology denoting times? Or how about
>one for places? FOAF is good for people, but what about organizations or
>institutions?
>
>Inquiring minds would like to know.
>
>— 
>Eric Morgan

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