Is it Open Bibliographic Data?

Many members of the Working Group on Open Bibliographic Data have been engaged for a long time in the scientific community, the scholarly information community or the library community. They all believe in the need for open data as a basis for new information and research services. Thomas Krichel is one of them. One of his current projects is AuthorClaim, an interdisciplinary open-access author registration service which authors can use to build profiles of their works as described in many bibliographic data bases. In order for this service to work, Thomas assembles a set of bibliographic datasets. As much as he feels he can do, Thomas has released the datasets used in AuthorClaim in their original form, or in a condensed form available. The resulting service which provides scholarly metadata for reuse in other projects is called 3lib.

Unclear licensing status

As 3lib – like other services – is without question an interesting project in the context of bibliographic data, unfortunately the data it provides nonetheless isn’t clearly open in light of the Principles on Open Bibliographic Data. For most of the data aggregated within 3lib the licensing status is unclear as no explicit terms of use can be found. As we want to build an environment of shared open bibliographic data, the question is: How to best reach clarity about the licensing status of this data?

Reaching clarity

Here comes IsItOpenData into play, a service established by the OKFN Working Group on Open Data in Science. IsItOpenData provides a platform for enquiring data providers about their data’s licensing status. It seems to really fit well for our purposes and so we decided to use it. First, we made a public list naming all 3lib data sources and indicating their licensing status. Then we started with sending enquiries (1, 2, 3) to data providers who don’t make explicit a licensing policy on their web pages. Until now, there are no repsonses but we’ll follow up on this post when first answers come in.

As you can see, there are still some enquiries to be made. If you are familiar with some of the data providers, why don’t you make an enquiry?

How to make an enquiry?

Most helpful for making such an enquiry is Heather Piwowar’s guide IsItOpenData? tips. I’ll summarize the most important points adding information with respect to new features.

The basics

  1. Register for a new account at the IsItOpenData? site
  2. Make an Enquiry
  3. Wait for a response
  4. Follow up with a thank you!
  5. Resolve the enquiry as soon as you know whether the data is closed or open.

More detailed tips

  • Start with a well-considered email based on the template IsItOpenData will serve you.
  • Try to compose your email such that it isn’t mistaken for spam. This probably means limiting links.
  • Recognize that your email may be identified as spam anyway. Follow up with a short email from your personal email account, alerting the recipient that they have been sent an IsItOpenData email and it may be in their spam filter.
  • In the main email AND the personal email, highlight (in a central place in the main body of the email) that responses will be made public on the IsItOpenData site. Emphasize this very clearly. It is important, easily missed, and potentially very embarrassing if not clear.
  • Put the organization name in email subject. This will make your request easy to browse in the enquiry list.
  • The “IsItOpenData” footer will automatically be appended to the bottom of your email.
  • Send the orignal email through the IsItOpenData site using the Make Enquiry link. This email will be sent with an IsItOpenData reply address. You will receive a copy of this email as a bcc: recipient.
  • If people reply to the original email, replies will be automatically posted onto the website. IsItOpenData will email you an alert that you received a response. Note that these alerts may be considered spam by your email program.
  • If data providers write back to your personal email address, send them an email thanking them and confirming that you can post their email to the website. If yes, log back into the original query on IsItOpenData, and “FollowUp” with another post to them, thanking them, with their response appended to the bottom. This will archive the response at IsItOpenData.
  • Be sure to sincerely thank the respondents. Articulating these policies is not easy.
  • Change the enquiry status as soon as you have an explicit and definite statement about the openness of the respective data.
  • Keep the tone respectful, since the goal of IsItOpenData is to understand current policy. Lobbying for more open policies is a different task.
  • If you make an enquiry for a 3lib data set make a note on the etherpad.

Ask other data providers

Interested in using other bibliographic data sets but you couldn’t find any information about their licensing status? Just start another enquiry project with, talk about it on the openbiblio group’s mailing list or on this blog. The Working Group on Open Bibliographic Data is happy to support your openbiblio project.

Anybody working on open bibliographic data projects is invited to publish on this blog, sharing his/her knowledge and experience or to start a discussion. Just approach someone from the group or write an email to openbiblio[at]okfn[dot]org.

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