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MacArthur Foundation funds ‘Reference Extract’ to draw on librarians’ expertise and add credibility to Web search experience

DUBLIN, Ohio, January 6, 2011—The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has awarded $350,000 to fund researchers and developers from OCLC, the information schools of Syracuse University and the University of Washington and Zepheira LLC to continue work creating a more credible Web search experience based on the unique expertise, services and input from librarians worldwide.

The goal of the Reference Extract project is to make it easy to find credible information in the digital age. Researchers and developers are expected to have initial practical analysis and models of this “credibility engine” to share with the community in early 2011. Details of this work can be found through the Reference Extract home page at

Reference Extract is designed to capture Web site URLs and references that librarians and other experts use in answering questions. This information, including data used to determine the most credible resources, is harvested, processed and then made available through a variety of Web environments. For example, Reference Extract will use a Web-based architecture that allows information to be embedded into existing and new Web sites and applications.

The Reference Extract system links the questions of users to Web sites referenced by librarians and other experts as well as to the resources used to answer the questions. This approach varies from traditional Web search engines that represent only a single type of relationship—a Web page that points to another Web page. Reference Extract adds another relationship—linking to resources that librarians and experts point to and use.

“The best search engines are great for basic search, but sometimes the Web site results lack credibility in terms of trust, accuracy and reliability. So, who can help? Librarians,” said Dr. Mike Eisenberg, Dean Emeritus and Professor at the Information School of the University of Washington and a lead on the project. “If a librarian recommends a Web site, you can be pretty sure that it’s credible. Reference Extract will take hundreds of thousands of librarian recommendations and use them to help indicate to end users which site is credible. We’re extremely fortunate to have the MacArthur Foundation’s support bringing together the right team to start to actively develop and showcase this work.”

Zepheira, a professional services organization with extensive expertise in Semantic Web standards, Linked Data principles, Web architecture and collaborative solutions, is working with OCLC, Syracuse and Washington to create the piece of Internet architecture that will make it easy to embed credible information in Web-based experiences.

“The computational machinery behind the Web is today somewhat like a small child in a shopping mall; it has no mechanism for distinguishing what sources of information to trust,” said Eric Miller, President of Zepheira. “Building a general architecture that makes it easy to re-use credible information on the Web is one thing; populating this architecture with trustworthy information is another. Building upon librarians’ expertise and existing virtual reference service offerings is a powerful way of offering new means for accessing credible information in a range of different online experiences.”

Reference Extract leaders say the project will work best if the entire library community gets involved to create a Web-scale effort to support this cooperative innovation. QuestionPoint, the OCLC virtual reference service supported by a global network of cooperating libraries and an infrastructure of software tools and communications, offers a starting point for building the service. QuestionPoint has more than 6 million reference transactions collected in a central knowledge resource and more than 10,000 librarians worldwide participating collaboratively to test the principles and impact of such a dynamic utility.

“The only way this will work is by making a project of an entire community,” said Dr. R. David Lankes, Director of the Information Institute of Syracuse and Professor at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies. “Web searchers get to tap into the incredible skill and knowledge of the library community, while librarians will be able to serve users on a whole new scale.”

In November 2008, the planning and research phase of Reference Extract began through a $100,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation. The MacArthur Foundation has continued to fund the project for the pilot development phase. Reference Extract work follows on previous credibility work supported by the MacArthur Foundation, most notably the Credibility Commons.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society. More information is available at

The School of Information Studies at Syracuse University
The School of Information Studies is The Original Information School in the nation. It is a leading center for innovative programs in information policy, information behavior, information management, information systems, information technology and information services. The nationally ranked school (U.S. News and World Report) has professional degree programs at the undergraduate and master’s levels and a research degree at the doctoral level. The school offers its master’s programs in campus and distance learning formats. For more information, visit

The University of Washington Information School
Each year, the world creates more than 161 exabytes of new information—enough to fill 2 billion 80GB iPods. So much information can be overwhelming. Rigorous study of the users and uses of information conducted at the UW Information School helps answer important questions. By tackling key social and technical problems in the information field, the UW iSchool has become an important link between users of information and designers of information systems, connecting society with the information it needs. For more information, visit

Founded in 1967, OCLC is a nonprofit, membership, computer library service and research organization dedicated to the public purposes of furthering access to the world’s information and reducing library costs. More than 72,000 libraries in 170 countries have used OCLC services to locate, acquire, catalog, lend, preserve and manage library materials. Researchers, students, faculty, scholars, professional librarians and other information seekers use OCLC services to obtain bibliographic, abstract and full-text information when and where they need it. OCLC and its member libraries cooperatively produce and maintain WorldCat, the world’s largest online database for discovery of library resources. Search WorldCat on the Web at For more information, visit

Zepheira is a US-based professional services firm comprising leaders in web architecture, semantic web standards, and linked data principles used to achieve integration of data stored in multiple systems and formats across organizations. Zepheira experts have a long history of leading Internet standards initiatives and delivering solutions founded in open standards and open source software. These solutions apply social computing principles and focus on allowing communities to collaborate around the analysis and curation of their data. Zepheira's solutions benefit a broad range of industries including memory organizations, manufacturing, financial services, medical research and life sciences. The company is privately held and has offices in Virginia, Ohio and Colorado. For more information, visit:

OCLC, WorldCat,, QuestionPoint and Reference Extract are trademarks/service marks of OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. Third-party product, service and business names are trademarks/service marks of their respective owners.

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