Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tagging Library Catalogs

Would you like to make a comment on a book, video, or other item in your library's catalog? Do you wish to see user-generated keywords/tags next to a bibliographic record in a catalog? If given the choice, would you write a book review for a book in your library? Some libraries have already begun to explore options that allow users do some of these things that can already be done on Amazon. These kinds of catalogs would be called SOPACS, or social online public access catalogs.

Library Hi Tech published an artitle titled "Subjecting the catalog to tagging" by Luiz H. Mendes, Jennie Quinonez-Skinner, and Danielle Skaggs. They talk about a study they conducted on their library's implementation of LibraryThing tags into their catalog. LibraryThing allows its users to catalog their own personal book collections and assign their own personal subject headings, which they call tags. When a user adds a book to their account, they can describe that book with descriptors. Whenever they login to their account, they can click on any of these descriptors to find all the books listed under that heading.

The authors of this article hail from California State University, Northridge, and their library, the Oviatt Library, has pulled these user-generated tags from LibraryThing, using the ISBN numbers. In their discussion section, they claim: "For every new book a user discovers using LCSH headings they will discover four books using LTFL [LibraryThing for Libraries = user-generated tags]. This type of data captures sheer numbers, with the potential for increased resource discovery" (39). They recognize that this does not equate directly to relevancy, but it certainly seems like a step in a positive direction for social OPACs.

I like the idea of having people select user-generated tags, because these tags often reflect more closely the modern-day language people use. One of the standard examples of out-of-date subject headings in the Library of Congress classification system is "cookery," which is the subject heading for cookbooks and cooking. Library patrons would prefer to find just what they want with "cookbooks," and some tags would help them find more specific results more directly, such as "vegan cookbooks," that a user-generated tag might offer.

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