One of the objectives for Kit-Catalogue is to provide linked-data on the equipment in the database that other systems (and people) can consume and use. For example, it would be great to have other institutional systems able to link with and use the details within our database, perhaps for research, or wider asset management purposes. Our big vision for linking this data is for individual installations of Kit-Catalogue to be indexed by a central system which provides regional searching capabilities to HE institutions, companies and other groups interested in using equipment and facilities in their area.
Now some of this searching functionality will be provided by Google automatically as they start indexing our public pages, and search engines are going to be providing the majority of our third-party visits in the future. Better still, though, would be a system that could search the catalogue directly, make sense of all the data we hold and provide more relevant searching options.
All of this relies on data, of course, and keen not to reinvent the wheel I set off trying to find any equipment metadata schemas I could co-opt for our purposes. I mistakenly thought I’d easily find a schema for things like an item’s manufacturer, model, etc, but instead the search has been pretty disappointing so far. I won’t detail all the sites, specs and schemas I’ve gone through as there’s too many to mention, but the following are the highlights.
The Dublin Core site was one of my first ports of call. It’s a metadata staple, and the site contains some tantalising mentions of recording the properties of physical objects, I believe with the intention of helping museums store digital representations of physical artifacts. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything useful in the specifications relating to this. Dublin Core is great for ‘artifacts’ that have a creator/author, and other related concepts, but it doesn’t seem to have anything suitable to fill our requirements.
Existing enterprise asset management systems were another obvious target, and I browsed through sites, looking for data specifications or schema, but with no luck. Much of the content in this area seems to be on guidelines and rules that will put you on the path to effective asset management. It’s all well and good, but it doesn’t help me catalogue anything in a linkable way, and most of the interesting looking information was hidden inside proprietory packages anyway.
Through a JISC CETIS/Repositories mailing list, we received a useful tip-off about the CERIF metadata specification. Developed by euroCRIS and recommended by JISC for recording research information, it covers all aspects of research activity including funding calls, publications, patents, and most importantly for us, research equipment.
The specification as a whole looks pretty comprehensive and it certainly looks like a great basis for a research management system. The equipment section, however, is a little light on detail for our needs, and essentially consists of name, description and keyword fields. While this makes CERIF unsuitable for underpinning our catalogue , it may provide a useful output ‘format’ for our API, and offer a means to exchange data with any institutional research management systems that may be running alongside Kit-Catalogue.
So it’s been a fruitless search so far, though I have learned an awful lot about some of the other interesting metadata schemas that now exist out in the wild. While I’ve not given up all hope just yet, the clock is ticking, and with code developments progressing, it’s probably time to draw a line under the search for now. If any of you out there have any tips though, please do send them on through!
In the meantime, I think we’ll have to settle for creating our own simple schema that anyone can easily make sense of. If we do strike schema-gold later on, we can always add it to the Kit-Catalogue API as another output option.