The Publications Office (OP) provides infrastructure for everyone dealing with information in Europe and publishes legislative and general documents. They use multilingual code lists to ease and automate data exchange, which work as a basis for interoperability since Europe has a lot of languages that need to be interoperable.
Denis Dechandon, Aniko Gerencser and Mihai Paunescu are experts in semantic data, metadata and reference architecture. In this interview, the three of them will unfold the world of semantic interoperability and explain how Vocbench, EU Vocabularies and Eurovoc serve different organisations in Europe and beyond.
Aniko Gerencser graduated in information science and linguistics. She joined the Publications Office in 2018 to work as a documentalist on metadata and reference architecture with controlled vocabularies. Her main activities involve curating, managing and publishing thesauri, taxonomies, ontologies and authority tables.
What is the work of the Publications Office and how does it promote interoperability?
A.G.: We have to reach librarians and institutions who are our main target groups. Additionally, we provide other services for citizens or EU Institutions: tools and consultancy. As for tools, we offer Vocbench which is a vocabulary editing tool. As for services, we provide training and consultancy for international and EU Institutions or Member States that would like to manage their vocabularies with Vocbench. We provide management and follow-up until publication, which is the last stage of the process. We also have a website called EU vocabularies where we publish taxonomies, thesauri and controlled vocabularies, either created by ourselves or provided by our clients. In the OP, data is especially structured and we want to work a lot more on linked open data.
M.P.: The Publications Office is first a service provider. We provide infrastructure for everyone dealing with information in Europe and publish documentation: legislation and general documents.
We use Joinup to raise awareness of what we are doing and although the OP already has a big name in the European Institutions ecosystem, it needs more visibility to allow people to profit from its capabilities.
-- Mihai Paunescu
A.G.: The Publications Office provides digital as well as paper publications to EU citizens and also to other institutions. So it is an inter-institutional body. Our scope is broad: from legislation (EUR-Lex and Official Journal) to research data (i.e., Cordis). We also provide general electronic and printed publications to schools, citizens, Member States and other institutions. We cover a lot of aspects, from the catalogues to the libraries and use the metadata for indexing all this information.
D.D.: We provide metadata and identifiers (ISBN, ISSN, DOI) which are used in different publications for different communities of users. This makes the OP a central point for registration of all publications. Semantic interoperability begins with metadata and our unit is very active in this area. But metadata goes beyond code lists. For example, we manage and disseminate controlled vocabularies. Also, the OP made a big step by moving from traditional data-based IT technology to semantic technologies that are used and reused on the web nowadays to ease access to information.
Can you give a few examples? How do you use code lists?
D.D.: The first big use of code lists is to automate processes. For example in the ordinary legislative procedure: imagine all the files that are being sent back and forth between Parliament, Commission and Council to reach a regulation or guidelines. Now, all this transmission is done automatically, based on metadata.
A.G.: Code lists ease and automate data exchange and are used as metadata.
M.P.: Actually, what we are doing is not only about code lists. Code lists are a very simple instance of data that we are using. In our Unit, most of the time we are dealing with vocabularies. That is why you find our Unit on the web under "EU vocabularies". Vocabularies are a bit more than lists of pure data: there is a hierarchy of information in order to classify, for example European legislation. One of our most important products is Eurovoc: it lists and classifies all information useful to tag other pieces of information like documents. Documents can then be classified according to subjects. We have separate code lists: list of countries in the EU and beyond, list of their translation in EU official languages, list of all languages, currencies etc. These are very common. We provide tens of such lists: vocabularies and also some more complex lists like ontologies.
To come back to Joinup, these lists are useful to build solutions around them. Any institution, organisation or association should use our lists to organise themselves better.
A.G.: Indexation and search work are based on Eurovoc. When using the search engine on the Publications Office website, whatever you search – legislation, open data, EU publications, European research – is found thanks to Eurovoc, which is a thesaurus produced by us. It means that indexers and cataloguers of any collection add our thesaurus keywords to their collection. Even if you don't see it, there is structured metadata behind the search. In this case, it is Eurovoc. You can manage to see this structure when you use our website function "Browse by subject". There you see all the structured content of our website. You can search in any language, because indexers use identifiers, which have all labels of all EU official languages.
M.P.: Also, all our code lists are multilingual, therefore they work as a basis for interoperability, especially in Europe, where there are a lot of languages that need to be interoperable.
D.D.: Eurovoc is used by national parliaments, public services and companies beyond the EU. We run an online survey and we noticed that, all around the world, a lot of countries use it.
Could you give concrete examples of Eurovoc's use?
M.P.: If you think about European legislation, you think about Eur-lex. It uses heavily our resources in order to organise and tag this legislation. Then, there is the EU procurement process: the TED portal is based partly on our code list. Actually, a lot of services in the EU are using our code lists but not always in such a visible way as in these two examples.
Check out the OP's new releases of EU Vocabularies here on Joinup!
Among the new additions to the standard set of assets, there are authority tables for EU Strategic priorities, Scoring values and also new tables associated with e-procurement. View them as Joinup solutions in the EU Semantic Interoperability Catalogue collection.