Seeing through Vocabularies


Ontologies and vocabularies are common when working with RDF (Resource Description Framework). Well-known “vocabularies” include FOAF and SKOS. Well-known “ontologies,” specific to the library community, are Bibframe and FRBR. Interestingly, even though FOAF is expressed formally as an ontology, it presents itself and is generally regarded as a vocabulary. Conversely, Bibframe and FRBR, while also expressed formally as ontologies, present themselves up front as vocabularies but are nevertheless perceived as ontologies. That’s because the decision to create an RDF “vocabulary” or an “ontology” is a technical one and a political one, both of which must be in alignment. This essay explores the technical distinction alongside the more subtle political distinction at work and how librarians seem to gravitate to the more formal comforts of OWL even though it may not be in their long-term interests.

Author Biography

Kevin M Ford, Library of Congress

Librarian, Linked Data Applications Specialist

Library of Congress


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Dan Brickley and Libby Miller, “FOAF Vocabulary Specification 0.99,” accessed May 21, 2020,

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How to Cite
Ford, K. M. (2020). Seeing through Vocabularies. Information Technology and Libraries, 39(2).