Meeting on the ledge

(or why I don't get out much…..)

Taxonomy

A few days ago the Local Government Association urged local government to reduce its use of jargon. The story got covered quite widely in the press as an opportunity to prick official pomposity.  Fascinatingly, one of the 200 words they highlighted was ‘taxonomy’, the science of classification. This to my mind indicates that these local government bigwigs both want to be seen as capable of understanding complex data structures, and also perceive a need for people or systems to make them manageable. But what doesn’t seem to have occurred to many of them (or indeed the press)  is that there is a profession trained over decades to use and create classification structures: librarians (although I’m not sure that all Librarians would agree!).  Maybe this is yet another instance of our profession’s public image conflicting with the benefit it can offer to society….

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March 19, 2009 Posted by | Libraries | , , | Leave a comment

Tagging in the OPAC

We’ve got a trial of LibraryThing on our OPAC at the moment (sorry – its on the test system which isn’t available off campus so I can’t show it off – all credit to LibraryThing however as it was easy to implement).  I’ve not yet had chance to show it to my colleagues, but I suspect it won’t receive universal endorsement, particularly on the tagging.

I’m expecting the same mix of enthusiasm and scepticism I see whenever the concept of user tagging is mentioned. I can see both sides of the argument: the purists object to users being able to tag items using an uncontrolled vocabulary which makes the catalogue less searchable, and the Library2 fans say that users want this level of interactivity. From a personal point of view I love the idea of tag clouds – they add that graphical approach to subjects that works if you have the kind of brain that works with mind maps. And they add some graphical appeal to our rather dry textual catalogues – especially if there’s no cover art available from your chosen supplier.

However the concept of allowing users to subject tag items is more difficult. It reduces the importance of all those strict rules of cataloguing that we as librarians can get so precious about. Hence if you are a cataloguer I can appreciate that you might have different views than a subject librarian. But one of the ways in which we learn is by applying labels, and if the tags our students use are more meaningfull to them than the list of controlled terms we use who can blame them from wanting to make things more usable from their point of view? Libraries must above all be usable, and in an effort to make things more scientific by creating rigid vocabularies that are separated from the language our patrons use, maybe we are making them more difficult to use than they should be?

There are of course other problems we have to cope with: deciding what is a genuine user tag and what is abuse is one, and just finding the time to check all those tags. And maybe user tagging isn’t for all libraries. But I think in HE libraries we need to give it a try…..

March 10, 2009 Posted by | Libraries | , , | 2 Comments