Tagging for the Benefit of All

Recently the concept of user created content in catalog records has resurfaced. As interested as many seem to be in the developments of tagging in the general content on the web., there is still much to be discussed on the relevance of user tags in library catalogs. Statements as to the personal or individual meaning of user tags has made the concept of universal application for such tagging less useful. However, in the environment of a semantic web, it may be possible to see related tags joined together in a sort of tag collective.

An example of tagging in an academic library can be seen in the PennTags system developed at the University of Pennsylvania. The developers have already noticed a difference in how users tag for personal connection and how they have used the system to share resources with colleagues. I particularily like the use of a tag cloud and lists as to the most recently searched tags. However, I am less likely to believe that these interesting features are useful to anyone except information science buffs.

Another catalog that came up in discussion was the Ann Arbor District Library. In this interface users can add tags to items, which then show up in a sidebar on the catalog home page. This is an excellent feature for browsing but again there is something to be said for a user who isn’t aware that it is a limited search feature.

Systems such as user tagging rely on a large portion of your user population participating in the tagging activity. For many taking to the time to add a few words isn’t as welcome as you may think. One can wonder if tagging has been plagued by the actions of those with a vast wealth of time but with a poverty of attention. You often see things written on bus seats, bathroom stalls, and alley walls; but the content isn’t normally a dissertation.

I am just as fascinated with user created content in library records as the next library tech geek, but as I step out of the novelty of such endeavors, I wonder if knowing that Joe Public thought that the Da Vinci Code was a book about “art history” truly encompasses the possibilities of this type of social tagging.

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