24:3 (2009:09) 24th Conference: Strategy Session: Collaborative Tagging

September 3, 2009 at 2:39 pm | Posted in Conference Reports, Strategy Sessions | Leave a comment

STRATEGY SESSION
Collaborative Tagging: Traditional Cataloging Meets the Wisdom of Crowds

Scott R. McFadden, Ball State University; Jenna Venker Weidenbenner, The Career Center
Reported by Marie Peterson

Scott McFadden (his co-presenter was unable to attend due to illness) began this presentation with an overview of bookmarks and tags and their role in finding information online.  As sites began to proliferate on the Internet, and the number of users began growing as well, users began to develop methods for keeping track of websites they might want to find again.  How could this vast, growing universe of information be “cataloged”?  Was there any way to organize and provide user access to so much information?

One answer, albeit a limited one, involved creating bookmarks which were stored in a restricted way in folders on the hard drive.  A serious disadvantage to this method was that these bookmarks were only available on the individual computer used at the time they were created.

Users eventually figured out that tagging the information, the digital object itself, or the site itself, would provide a way of searching for and finding that information again.  Tags are metadata elements attached to an object that describe an aspect or attribute of it.  They can be created from anywhere and applied to anything digital.  McFadden added that electronic tagging has gone beyond digital, and is now being applied to physical objects.

Tagging is an ultimately social endeavor; many if not most users are tagging resources not only to organize their own information, but especially in order to share resources with others.

Tagging is ubiquitous now.   It is used on social bookmarking sites such as Delicious; on blogs, personal, news media, political and professional; on commercial sites, such as Amazon; photo websites, such as Flickr; and on collaborative book cataloging sites such as LibraryThing and goodreads. These are simply the tip of the iceberg for tagging applications.

The advantages of tagging include their ease of use.  Natural language is used rather than a proscribed thesaurus of accepted terms; there is no intimidation involved.  However, because of its ubiquitous use, there is no authority control, no controlled vocabulary, and no hierarchical structure.  Similar terms may end up causing confusion for the user.

Should collaborative tagging replace a structured cataloging schema?  There is, after all, more flexibility of vocabulary in folksonomies than in Library of Congress Subject Headings.  Rather than choosing one or the other, using social tagging alongside traditional cataloging provides an effective way to enhance research.

McFadden discussed four library systems, one public, and three academic, and their use of tagging while continuing with traditional cataloging practices.

Ball State University includes user-created, librarian-monitored tags in their online subject guides.  Tags are seen at the top of the subject guide page, and as a tag cloud at the side.  Users may supply tags, but only editors may add them to the page.  This results in a somewhat controlled vocabulary rather than a completely user-created folksonomy.

The University of Michigan’s catalog is enhanced by tags created as a result of patrons’ saving and organizing information for their projects.  Their saved interactions are mined for tags, per Ken Varnum, Web Systems manager at Michigan, which appear as tag clouds on each relevant catalog entry.  Similarly, the University of Pennsylvania’s “Penn Tags” result from users’ organizing information for projects.  Patrons can also add tags to any catalog record by a click of a button.

The Ann Arbor District Library has a very flexible approach to tagging.  The home page shows the top ten tags in an interactive display.  Clicking on any one, e.g., “anime,”  will take one to a list of titles having that tag. Patrons may add tags to catalog entries, see what other users value by way of the top ten list, and increase findability of information for everyone.

The Q&A was excellent at this presentation.  Among the issues discussed by the audience were how to address administrators who think catalogers can be eliminated because of social applications; the need for the Library of Congress and others to enable their controlled vocabularies to “talk” to user-provided tags, crosswalks between thesauri/ontologies; and how to provide editing of tags without it becoming censorship.

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