The Open Language Archives Community: An Infrastructure for Distributed Archiving of Language Resources

  1. 1. Gary F. Simons

    Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL International)

  2. 2. Steven Bird

    University of Pennsylvania

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The Open Language Archives Community: An Infrastructure
for Distributed Archiving of Language Resources


SIL International


University of Pennsylvania


University of Tübingen







1. Introduction
A current trend in humanities computing is the explosion of digital resources
and tools. It is clear that the new electronic media in conjunction with
distribution via the World-Wide Web offer a degree of access to resources
that is unparalleled in history. But there is a gap between what users want
and what they can achieve today. For instance, potential users cannot
necessarily find the material they are interested in, different data
providers use different formats and conventions, the average researcher has
no idea how to prepare materials for publication via this medium, to name
just a few of the problems.
A new direction for humanities computing would be for the community to
organize its efforts so as to bridge this gap. This paper describes what one
subcommunity, namely, those working with language-related resources, is
doing in pursuit of this goal. The Open Language Archives Community was
founded in December of 2000 with the following purpose statement:
OLAC, the Open Language Archives Community, is an international
partnership of institutions and individuals who are creating a
worldwide virtual library of language resources by: (1) developing
consensus on best current practice for the digital archiving of
language resources, and (2) developing a network of interoperating
repositories and services for housing and accessing such

This community involves both people and machines in cooperation. This paper
describes the infrastructure that has been developed in order to support
this cooperation. There are three aspects of infrastructure which are
explained in the remaining sections:
a technical infrastructure that defines how participating machines
interact with other participating machines,
a governance infrastructure that defines how participating people
interact with other participating people, and
a usage infrastructure that defines how participating people
interact with participating machines.

2. Technical infrastructure
The technical infrastructure for OLAC is built on an infrastructure developed
within the digital libraries community by the Open Archives Initiative
[OAI][2]. This infrastructure has two components: a metadata standard
[OAI-DC] [3]and a metadata harvesting protocol [OAI-MHP] [4]. The OLAC
versions of these are specializations that address the particular needs of
language archiving. The two components of technical infrastructure are:
The OLAC Metadata Set [ OLAC-MS] [6] defines the elements to be
used in metadata descriptions of archive holdings and how such
descriptions are to be represented in XML for publication to the
community. The OLAC metadata set contains the 15 elements of the
Dublin Core metadata set [DC-MS] [1], plus 8 refined elements that
capture information of special interest to the language resources
community. In order to improve recall and precision when searching
for resources, the standard also defines a number of controlled
vocabularies for descriptor terms. The most important of these is a
standard for identifying languages [ Simons, 2000] [8].
The OLAC Metadata Harvesting Protocol [ OLAC-MHP] [5] defines the
protocol by which machines that are "service providers" query the
machines that are "data providers" in order to harvest the metadata
records they publish. In this model, every participating archive is
a data provider. Any other site may use the protocol to collect
metadata records in order to provide a service, such as offering a
union catalog of all archives or a specialized search service
pertaining to a particular topic. The protocol is based on HTTP.
Requests to data providers are issued via URLs with parameters;
responses are returned as XML documents.

3. Governance infrastructure
The infrastructure that supports the interaction among the human participants
of the Open Language Archives Community is defined in the OLAC process
document [ OLAC-Process] [7]. It defines three things:
The governing ideas of OLAC. These are defined through a summary
statement of its purpose, vision, and core values.
The organization of OLAC. This is defined in terms of the groups
of participants that play key roles: advisory board, participating
archives and services, prospective participants, working groups,
participating individuals, and coordinators.
The operation of OLAC. It is through documents (such as standards
and best practice recommendations) that OLAC defines itself and the
practices that it promotes. The document process defines how
documents are generated and how they progress from one status to the
next along the five-phase life cycle of development, proposal,
testing, adoption, and retirement.

4. Usage infrastructure
The infrastructure that has been built to allow the community of users
interested in language resources to interact with the machines that provide
services for this community has four major components:
A community gateway (hosted by the Linguistic Data Consortium at
) provides
access to all aspects of the community: news, documents, a directory
of participants, links to service providers, resources for
implementing data providers, and so on.
A union catalog (to be hosted by Linguist List at ) of all records harvested
from all OLAC data providers along with a full search engine.
A language identification server ( hosted by SIL International at
) that documents the
standard OLAC follows in identifying the 6,800+ living languages of
the world.
A proxied data provider (also hosted by the Linguistic Data
Consortium) that gives individual researchers and small institutions
that do not have the capacity to implement their own data provider
an alternative way to publish their data and metadata as an OLAC

5. Conclusion
During its first year of operation, 2001, the basic infrastructure for OLAC
has been developed. By the end of that year, twelve institutions have become
full participants and implemented data providers that publish a total of
18,000 metadata records. During the second year, 2002, the focus will be on
enlarging the community of participating archives. The technical standards
will be frozen in candidate status during that year so that archives need
not worry about a moving target as they implement an OLAC data provider.
Based on the experiences of the archives that participate in the first two
years, the standards will be refined and formally adopted by the community
during the third year, 2003. All individuals and institutions who have
language-related resources to share are enthusiastically invited to take
part in this new direction for humanities computing to build a distributed
virtual library of digital resources for the documentation and study of
human languages.

Dublin Core Metadata Element Set
Version 1.1: Reference Description


Open Archives Initiative

Schema for OAI implementation of Dublin Core

The Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata

OLAC Metadata Harvesting Protocol

To appear at

OLAC Metadata Set

also "The OLAC Metadata Set and Controlled Vocabularies," by Steven Bird
and Gary Simons. Proceedings of the ACL/EACL Workshop
on Sharing Tools and Resources for Research and Education, Toulouse,
July 2001, Association for Computational Linguistics.

OLAC Process


Language identification in metadata descriptions of
language archive holdings

Proceedings of the Workshop on Web-Based Language
Documentation and Description 12-15 December 2000, Philadelphia,


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Conference Info

In review

"New Directions in Humanities Computing"

Hosted at Universität Tübingen (University of Tubingen / Tuebingen)

Tübingen, Germany

July 23, 2002 - July 28, 2008

72 works by 136 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double-checked.

Conference website:

Series: ALLC/EADH (29), ACH/ICCH (22), ACH/ALLC (14)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None