Texas Bklvr

Monday, June 29, 2009

Tag It

When asked if tagging belongs in the library, my first thought is that libraries have done 'tagging' for years. Whenever we assign a subject heading to a book or create an index, we are in essence tagging. If the purpose is to assist people with finding information, pictures or memorabilia, then tagging is just another term for what libraries do, just in a controlled environment.

Should tagging replace subject headings? Well, as a librarian working to help people, I want a controlled vocabulary so that I can quickly narrow down my search. I also want to be able to search other library catalogs knowing I can use the same term to find the same concept. So I don't think tagging can replace subject headings. However, I do think tagging can complement our existing form of subject headings in some fashion. The problem is that we are asking everyone in the world to start describing things so people can find them. I don't see anything wrong with that as long as we don't have any expections for consistency in terms or definitions. Tagging will generate numerous different terms for the same item which in turn will generate unusual hits in a search, making it more difficult in some ways for people to find things. But in the Web 2.0 world I don't think it matters as much. Users are looking for something; they find something; if that something meets their needs, the end justifies the means.

As for encouraging the practice, I don't think we as librarians have a lot of say in the matter. Tagging is already an accepted practice in the Web 2.o world and trying to change it or control it would be a vast undertaking. We just need to recognize it for what it is, personal descriptions by individuals of different backgrounds, cultures and languages.


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