Talking Tags

Posted: October 29, 2008 in library, library catalog, LibraryThing, services, web 2.0
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We’re currently in the midst of a library catalog redesign. Last week we had an open discussion forum to look at some of the new features that are available in the new release as well as some optional enhancements. On the enhancements side we looked at a book jacket service as well as LibraryThing. LibraryThing offers a set of enhancements which include tags, similar books, and other editions. I personally find the similar books feature to be very useful, and of course tag clouds are beginning to show up in more places.

LibraryThing sparked several interesting discussions. Two of the discussion points focused on issues that I’ve heard a number of times when discussing tagging. One point emphasizes the detail and specificity of Library of Congress subject Headings. The other point highlights the ability of keyword searches to retrieve content that users need. If we already have subject Headings and keyword searches, why do we need tags?

I think this is a valid question which deserves an answer, but perhaps not necessarily the answer one might expect. I don’t think of tags as a replacement for subject headings or keyword searches. Instead, the tags provide a function that goes directly to the core of web 2.0 technologies. Tags allow users to organize and interact with content in a way that is meaningful to them. Tags may also help users find books in the catalog, and it’s great if that happens. But I think it’s more significant that tags allow users to truly work with the content contained in the library catalog rather than just passively reading a screen and perhaps jotting down a call number.

In the end I don’t know if we’ll add LibraryThing enhancements to our catalog, but it’s definitely worth consideration. The product that has a lot of promise, and it sparked some interesting discussion during our forum. Many people saw the immediate value that these enhancements could add to the library catalog. Perhaps most importantly, we had a number of students present for our discussion, and THEY saw the benefits these enhancements would bring. That’s what’s it really all about, after all.

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