BBC “In Our Time” Reading List using Linked Data

If you’re a regular listener of BBC Radio 4, you will almost certainly have come across In Our Time, a weekly, single topic discussion programme (with a longstanding archive of listen again material) hosted by Melvyn Bragg on matters scientific, philosophical, historical and cultural. In certain respects, In Our Time may be thought of as discussion based audio encyclopedia. The format sees a panel of three experts (made up of academics, commentators and critics knowledgeable on the topic for that week) teaching the host about the topic. A diligent student, he will of course have done some background reading, and posted links to the references consulted on the programme’s web page.

I’ve already had a quick play with the In Our Time data, looking to see how easy it is to relate programmes to expert academics from various UK universities (Visualising OU Academic Participation with the BBC’s “In Our Time”), but I also wondered whether it would be possible to do anything with the book references, such as using them to identify courses that may be related to a particular programme; (this is reminiscent of a couple of MOSAIC competition entries that looked at ways of recommending books based on courses, and courses based on books using @daveyp’s data from Huddersfield University library that associated course codes with the books borrowed by students taking those courses).

Being a lazy sort, I posted an idea to the OKF Ideas Incubator suggesting that it might be worth considering extracting references from In Our Time programme pages and then reconciling them with Linked Data representations of the corresponding book data.

And then, as if by magic, a solution appeared, from Orangeaurochs: “In Our Time” booklist which describes a method for parsing out the book data and then getting a Linked Data resource reference back from Bibliographica.

The original recipe suggested screenscraping the raw book references from the page HTML, but I posted a comment (at the time of writing, still in the moderation queue) which suggests:

Great to see you taking this challenge on. Re your step 2 – obtaining the reading list – a possibly more structured way of doing this is to get the appropriate section out of the xml or json representation of the programme page (eg or

I wonder if the BBC will start to structure the data even more – for example by adding explicitly marked up biblio data to book references?

Anyway, you can see an example of the results at pages with URLs of the form – just add the appropriate IOT programme page URL to extract the data from it.

There are a few hit and misses, but it’s a great start, and something that can be used as a starting point for thinking about how to annotate programme related booklists with structured bibliographic data and exploring what that might mean in a world of linked educational resources that can also reference linked BBC content… :-)

PS Hmmm, I wonder what other programmes are associated with books? A Good Read and Desert Island Discs certainly…

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

9 thoughts on “BBC “In Our Time” Reading List using Linked Data”

  1. Thank you for the write up. Have now approved comment after only spotting it here (itself via someone else’s tweet!). A good point anyway. I didn’t spot the XML.

  2. I had a quick look at the other BBC services you mention. The Good Read should be a good candidate but the citations look even more unstructured than the In Our Time ones, although they do seem to be vaguely consistent: Title By Author.

    Desert Island Discs only has one book per page. It might be fun to do more with their musical references too, although the artists at least are already linked to RDF.

    1. Maybe if we just keep trying to nudge the beeb folks, we can make a case for why they should be using structured data for book references as well as music and wildlife? ;-)

      I also wonder about the extent to which things like A History of the World in 100 Objects [ ] could (or should?) link in to the world of museum structured data and museum APIs????

  3. Unfortunately, I got an error message when I looked at the demo programme and talso for the Age of the Universe

    Fatal error: Cannot use string offset as an array in /home/aurochso/public_html/inourtime_booklist/inourtime_booklist_v1.php on line 336

  4. The BL have just released the first version of their new BNB linked data service which includes a SPARQL interface. I managed to tweak the booklist programme to interrogate the new BNB service instead of the now dead Bibliographica service. The no. of results are not impressive, hopefully due to the relatively small sample of records included at the moment, but it does at least work:

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