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Social Tagging, Library of Congress’ Subject Headings, and Library Catalogs

Social Tagging, Library of Congress’ Subject Headings, and Library Catalogs

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Published by Jason W. Dean
A brief paper exploring the use of social tags, or folksonomies, in library catalogs.
A brief paper exploring the use of social tags, or folksonomies, in library catalogs.

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Published by: Jason W. Dean on Apr 21, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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 Social Tagging, Library of Congress’ Subject Headings, and Library Catalogs byJason W. DeanIST 616Syracuse University
Social Tagging, Library of Congress’ Subject Headings, and Library Catalogs, 2Over the past several years the explosion of information associated with thedigitization of information resources has led to the creation of systems for user-createdtags, also known as collaborative tags. These systems allow users of electronicinformation resources to assign tags, of relevance to the user, to the information objectitself. These tags, however, are separate from the traditional form of “tagging” in thelibrary catalog, specifically the Library of Congress Subject Headings. These headings,alternatively referred to as Library of Congress Authorities, and referred to as LCSH inthis paper, are a massive collection of controlled vocabulary words used for thedescription of subjects, organization, places, and individuals in library catalog records.Both social tags and LCSH provide useful and helpful access points for catalog users.Furthermore, both systems offer strengths and weaknesses, which are complimentary toone another. This paper looks briefly at each system and the proposed methods by whichsocial tags and the LCSH can be integrated in a way that will help the user to find theinformation resources they seek.As pointed out in the Macgregor (2006) article, controlled vocabularies performmany useful functions, including:
Managing synonyms and other easily confused terms – This prevents thedescription of one “thing” by many terms. For example, without a controlledvocabulary, items about George W. Bush and George H. W. Bush might both bedescribed through the term “George Bush.” A controlled vocabulary ensures thatthe terms are unique, as well as consistent, across catalogs thereby increasing theease of searching for users.
Discriminates between homonyms – This function eliminates the confusion between similar sounding or spelled words with different meanings. For example,a user searching for the term “bark” might be searching for information about tree bark, but find information only about the sound a dog makes. Controlledvocabularies reduce the confusion between homonyms.
Refers user to appropriate terms – From the example above, if a user searches for “George Bush” in the catalog, the references under the controlled vocabularyheading will allow the catalog to offer “See under” links, allowing the user toconnect to the specific information they are seeking. In the example, the catalog
Social Tagging, Library of Congress’ Subject Headings, and Library Catalogs, 3might produce links to both George W. Bush and George H. W. Bush, allowingthe user to search more successfully for the particular person (or term).
Allows for the use of a hierarchy of terms – This allows for easier classification of terms, as well as collocation, thereby improving the usage of terms in searching.
Facilitates the use of language independent codes and notation – This allows usersto look at and understand terms in formatting that might not be in their nativelanguage.However, controlled vocabularies are not perfect, and are less than perfectlysuited to cope with the explosive growth of information today. As the Steele (2009)article highlights, libraries are receiving information resources faster than they can createmetadata for these items. LCSH is slow to add new headings, or alter current ones tomeet the information needs of users as reflected in the growth of keyword searching.However, through the growth of social media websites, such as delicious, flickr,and LibraryThing, an alternate method for assigning metadata to objects has arisen:tagging, or folksonomies. This is a method by which any user of a website or service canassign metadata to an item, with no control over vocabulary headings or preferred terms.Tags can range from the personal, such as “to-read” to the highly descriptive, such as“libel law,” to the subjective, as in “bad book.” The appeal of these tags lies in the ease of their creation, as well as the freedom to “tag” an object with any word the user chooses.Of course, these terms have many different meanings, each specific to the creator but notnecessarily shared with each individual “user” of the tags, meaning a user who did notcreate the original tags themselves. This represents a major problem in usingfolksonomies in library catalogs – there is no control over subjective terms, or synonyms. No widespread efforts exist to combine LCSH and folksonomies but some limited studieshave been done of folksonomies, their use in library catalogs, and their possiblecombination with LCSH.In the Bar-Ilan (2008) article, the authors studied the process of assigning tags toa variety of photos with significance to the users of those items. Specifically, the studyexamined two methods of assigning user-generated tags: free form and through fields.The authors found that structured tagging, or tagging with the use of fields, can providemore specific metadata, but also creates room for mis-interpretation of those fields. In

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