After Fedora: Linked Data and Ethical Design in the Digital Library

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Dohe, Kate. "After Fedora: Linked Data and Ethical Design in the Digital Library." In Ethics in Linked Data. Series on Critical Information Organization in LIS, book 1. Watson, B. M., Alexandra Provo, and Kathleen Burlingame, eds. Sacramento: Library Juice Press, 2023.


One of the most common applications of linked data technology within the library community are for digital library projects, many of which are deep into their second decade. For nearly as long, practitioners have raised implementation concerns about linked data in digital projects: that transforming and maintaining linked data requires expensive programming expertise, that the application stack is complex and fragile with many interdependencies, and that the maintenance communities are often made up of only a handful of qualified volunteers. Such technical issues present very real ethical dilemmas for digital library practitioners - is the cost of implementing linked data systems so high as to be inaccessible to all but the wealthiest organizations? Is the meticulous nature of designing around linked data worth the inevitable slowdowns in making digital content accessible? Is the level of effort of large-scale migration to linked data and maintenance over time actually sustainable in cash-strapped academic libraries? On balance, do these applications meet the needs of users as they evolve over time? These questions took on new urgency in the digital library community in 2015, when the newly-released Fedora 4 repository application implemented the Linked Data Platform specification and initiated a sea change in the digital library application landscape. Any conversations about the practical applications of linked data are inevitably shaped by the design, features, and functionality of the systems that store and serve that data to end users. Systems and application design is itself an expression of values by the people and organizations who build and maintain these products, and consequently, the choices and practices of those communities directly influence the creators and consumers of linked data. This chapter explores the landscape of linked data applications in digital libraries, with particular focus on the Fedora Commons community and related projects after the move to linked data. Furthermore, the chapter will examine the values and priorities of the communities that support these systems, and propose frameworks for future design of digital library projects that close the gaps between end users, implementers, and engineers. By drawing upon the author’s experience managing linked data digital initiatives at a major research university, and emerging practices in design justice and inclusive design principles, the chapter will link practical experience with critical theory to advocate for concrete actions in the digital library application communities.



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