National Bibliographic Knowledgebase 'key UK infrastructure'

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NBK has made a great start providing one place for UK academic library data, writes Sarah Bartlett

For the first time, the new National Bibliographic Knowledgebase (NBK) brings together bibliographic data from every UK academic and specialist library.  

Created by Jisc and project partner, OCLC, and soft-launched in February, the NBK is a potential game-changer for librarians trying to meet today’s collection management challenges. The NBK also promises to transform resource discovery for students and researchers by providing a single point of reference for books and journals across the nation’s libraries. 

‘We see the NBK as a key piece of national data infrastructure,’ says Bethan Ruddock, NBK project manager at Jisc. ‘As more libraries contribute, the NBK will, for the first time, expose the national collection by making the holdings of UK higher education and specialist libraries openly available.’

The NBK will provide a unique asset for UK library, student and research communities – a set of services that draws on a comprehensive set of library data.

Libraries are high on the list of Jisc’s higher education priorities, as Ruddock explains: ‘The library underpins much of the work within the institution. We want to make things as easy and efficient as possible for librarians, so they can concentrate on providing the personalised services we know are so valuable.’

As a longstanding provider of metadata services, OCLC provides the capacity needed to support Jisc by aggregating data from the 225 academic and specialist libraries identified.

The value of the NBK lies in its comprehensive coverage and unified user experience. Neil Wilson, head of collection metadata at the British Library and an NBK stakeholder, says: ‘Users will have a single online resource, to quickly find out where in the UK a specific item is located, and which organisation can help them access it. They can survey what’s out there, and potentially identify gaps for future research. The NBK brings everything together in a more efficient process.’

For David Prosser, executive director at RLUK, the NBK opens up huge opportunities for libraries. ‘Helping researchers and students navigate the digital environment is a key role,’ he says. ‘We see that with the growing number of university presses that are being launched or revived, with the support of the library. To help libraries make the right decisions and set the right priorities, we need large volumes of good data, and that’s what the NBK provides.’

Wilson adds: ‘Quality and consistency of metadata across the UK have been longstanding challenges. Today’s library metadata still betrays its card catalogue origins, and even automated catalogues can reflect institutionally specific practices. This creates difficulties when aggregating the data. Using OCLC to improve and standardise the metadata, should improve the consistency of the user experience. However, metadata is ultimately only part of the solution – it’s the combination of systems, metadata and services that will make the NBK a real step change.’ 

The NBK and the national collective collection

Collection management is certainly one area where robust decisions require high-quality data. As UK academic libraries prepare for the national collective collection agenda, they need to know exactly what they hold. 

‘This touches on real strategic pressures for academic libraries, especially with regard to space,’ David Prosser says. ‘Does it make sense to have large volumes of low-use monographs in the middle of campus, or can we make alternative use of that space? We need to manage our collections as efficiently as possible, and the NBK dataset will be a key tool.’

Neil Grindley, head of resource discovery at Jisc, agrees that this is a top-of-mind issue for many library directors. ‘They see NBK as the centre-piece of a collective retention policy,’ he says. ‘If everyone becomes comfortable about taking a national approach to managing collections, the NBK can coordinate efficiencies across the sector. This is the prize people are looking for in the UK.’

The UK Research Reserve (UKRR) comes to an end this month (March). This 10-year project has succeeded in freeing up physical space by removing low-use print journals. In so doing, it has transformed the way UK academic libraries think about collection management, and the NBK can build on that.

Many libraries have already started analysing their collections, deselecting low-use and high-volume stock, and using comparator tools to evaluate stock against peer institutions. They have identified rare and unique materials, and in some cases have discovered that collections are stronger than they realised. With full coverage of all UK academic and specialist libraries, the NBK promises to make these processes fully transformative. 

The British Library’s Wilson envisages even more efficiencies: ‘At a time when publishers offer the same content via multiple options, libraries must avoid acquiring duplicate material. Grouping library holdings and publisher data together and standardising them should make that easier. It may also help to identify new opportunities for collaborative purchasing.’

Core functions – discovery and cataloguing

Two pilot services, Library Hub Discover and Cataloguing are available now. With Cataloguing, NBK organisations can download and use MARC records for their library catalogue. Discovery is open to everybody worldwide, and is free at the point of use. The Discover interface will provide a single point of reference for UK resources – encompassing monographs (previously covered by Copac) and journals (replacing SUNCAT, Jisc’s journal search tool). Jisc plans to retire both Copac and SUNCAT at the end of July.

‘The NBK will be much more comprehensive than the current services,’ says Ruddock. ‘At present, Copac covers just over 100 libraries and SUNCAT has contributions from 117 libraries. With the NBK, we’re aiming for more than 200 libraries. And with OCLC helping to process the metadata, the NBK team will be freed up to work on further developments.’

The NBK recognises the value of resource discovery to research and learning at all levels. ‘The ease of discovering all materials in one place is where we’re trying to get to with NBK,’ says Grindley. ‘We’re aiming to provide an exhaustive catalogue of materials, so end-users are confident that they’re getting a true picture of all resources available in UK libraries. I think that’s a compelling value proposition for researchers.’

Axel Kaschte, product strategy director for EMEA at OCLC, says: ‘With data reuse, UK librarians can connect to the NBK and download bibliographic records, many of which will be merged master records, bringing together every field catalogued by every contributing library. The bigger the community, the greater the quality and efficiency gains can be.’

Global visibility with WorldCat.org

A significant benefit of contributing data to NBK is the global visibility that OCLC’s WorldCat.org will give to library collections. ‘We upload NBK data to WorldCat.org, which holds library data from around the world,’ says Axel. ‘From WorldCat.org, OCLC syndicates data to sites such as Google and Wikipedia. We create links back to the contributing library from those sites – an important service.’

Jisc shares OCLC’s appreciation of the value of global visibility. ‘It’s wonderful to make libraries more visible on the web,’ Ruddock says. Prosser sees this international dimension as important. ‘Research is global,’ he says, ‘We want to be able to compare locally and nationally, but we also want to think more widely and internationally.’

A collaborative community behind NBK

The international perspective was key to selecting OCLC as a strategic partner for NBK. ‘We chose OCLC for that reason – and for their track record of bibliographic innovation and handling large volumes of data,’ says Prosser.

However, the NBK is more than a partnership. ‘It has come from community need and it’s driven by the community, for the community,’ Ruddock concludes. ‘Community involvement in the UK – not just in contributing data but in steering the NBK – is invaluable to us, and we’d like to thank everybody who has participated so far.’

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