Exploring User-Contributed Metadata's Potential to Enhance Access to Literary Works: Social Tagging in Academic Library Catalogs

By DeZelar-Tiedman, Christine | Library Resources & Technical Services, October 2011 | Go to article overview

Exploring User-Contributed Metadata's Potential to Enhance Access to Literary Works: Social Tagging in Academic Library Catalogs


DeZelar-Tiedman, Christine, Library Resources & Technical Services


Academic libraries have moved toward providing social networking features, such as tagging, in their library catalogs. To explore whether user tags can enhance access to individual literary works, the author obtained a sample of individual works of English and American literature from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries from a large academic library catalog and searched them in LibraryThing. The author compared match rates, the availability of subject headings and tags across various literary forms, and the terminology used in tags versus controlled-vocabulary headings on a subset of records. In addition, she evaluated the usefulness of available LibraryThing tags for the library catalog records that lacked subject headings. Options for utilizing the subject terms available in sources outside the local catalog also are discussed.

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In recent years, many academic libraries have implemented Web 2.0 or next generation-style catalogs, often characterized by a streamlined search interface, relevancy-ranked search results, faceted browsing displays, and opportunities for more user interaction via tagging, ratings, reviews, and so on. Although interactive features are popular in large commercial sites such as Amazon and iTunes, users seem less interested in using social features in site-specific library catalogs. In an environmental scan of library, archive, and museum websites performed by a task force coordinated by the OCLC Research Libraries Group (RLG) Partnership, social media features seemed more likely to be used if the site served a niche audience or was national or multi-institutional, providing a sense of community or critical mass. (1) Michalko suggested that users do not view a library catalog as a social networking site where many people gather to share their interests and expertise. (2) Instead, they view it as a tool to help them find useful resources for their information needs. Users are more likely to want to interact with like-minded individuals on heavily aggregated sites, such as Amazon (where book reviews are heavily used and read) or Flickr (where thousands of users share and tag photographs), or on narrowly-focused, discipline-specific websites. The research project reported here sought to compare similarities and identify differences in user tags assigned in a social networking site and Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) assigned in a library catalog.

Background

A number of studies have been published investigating end user tagging of information resources. Folksonomies are the vocabularies that result from the act of users' application of subject terms, or tags, to particular items using their own vocabulary and understanding of, or relationship to, the object. (3) In contrast, LCSH and other controlled vocabularies that traditionally appear in library catalogs are based on carefully developed principles of thesaurus construction and are applied according to established standards and rules so that, ideally, terms are assigned consistently and accurately to aid the search process. Studies of inter-indexer consistency, however, have demonstrated that this ideal is rarely met. (4) Another perceived benefit of controlled vocabularies is the disambignation of terms, so that words with multiple meanings are understood to refer to a single definition. Unlike tagging, cataloging rules and local practices tend to limit the number of subject headings to be applied to a given item. Broader or narrower headings are applied according to the number of topics covered in a work, and subject headings are typically not assigned for topics comprising less than 20 percent of the text.

Conversely, free-text keywords in the form of tags are based on whatever, and how many, terms an end user feels are appropriate and meaningful for his or her personal use. Terminology in folksonomies may vary widely based on users' personal vocabularies, cultural or geographic backgrounds, levels of expertise, or particular interest in the item. …

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