User-designated tagging and Libraries

I’m a big fan of social tagging and the fabulously handy results one gets from pairing subscribing to tag streams. Sharing search results amongst others is so simple; no longer do I have to write explanatory emails and address them appropriately for whomever I think might be interested. Instead, tags can help to ensure the information is categorized and that other like-minded researchers will find it. My online time, always more limited than I want it to be, is now more effectively used; I’m generating a greater number of returns for the searches I do, because I can run them over a longer period of time through the wonder of RSS.

In this week’s readings I was impressed by Sam H. Kome’s Master’s paper Hierarchical subject relationships in folksonomies (2005). While he did not cite Peter Merholz’ 2004 work Metadata for the masses, I think they share some complementary beliefs. Merholz opined, “once you have a preliminary system in place [i.e., a naming system], you can use the most common tags to develop a controlled vocabulary that truly speaks the users’ language.” Kome mentions “several decades of research into human cognition and categorization activities have found that categorization is fundamental human activity” and identified an existant hierarchical naming structure within his sampling of user-designated tagging.

Other favourite quotes: John Udell, Conucopia of the commons: “Self-interested use leads to collective abundance.”

Joshua Porter, The lesson: “Personal value precedes network value.”

Rashmi Sinha, A social analysis of tagging: “All good systems need to serve the individual motive. Tagging works because it strikes a balance between the individual and the social.”

Together with an awareness of contemporary librarianship, these works help me to believe cataloguing can be revolutionized to be more meaningful for the end-users and yet still maintain an organizational structure.


Collaborative construction can be a very powerful force. I believe that the shared knowledge of a group will always be greater than the knowledge of a lone person. In order for a wiki to be successful – that is, to attract content creators and editors and users, to create a community around it – the knowledge to be represented within it shoud be clearly delineated. Wikipedia‘s three content policies do just this: provide a working definition of knowledge, which guides acceptable content creation and maintenance. First, a neutral point of view (NPOV) must be maintained; second, entries must pass the test of verifiability (V); and last, no original research (NOR) may appear in any entry.

For a library’s user group to benefit from a wiki, policies must be set in place that will define its intent, explain the technique/procedures by which a user can contribute, and explain the philosophy of collaborative creation. Finally, there should be a policy regarding repeated “attacks” on content, the online version of graffiti, should anyone become so noxious that banning them from contributing will serve the greater good of the community.

Soft security is a friendlier version of Bentham’s panopticon, being less about preventing and punishing mistakes than with rectifying them. Isn’t this the boss we all want to be, the boss we all want to work for?

Speaking of the library as workplace, I have been sketching out ideas for a staff-oriented wiki for the academic library I work for. A round of applause for the team behind the Antioch University New England Library and Staff Support Training Wiki. I love the fact that it is available for all to see, because I can then learn from their work; they’ve provided a strong model for what can be done to successfully manage knowledge capital. I see pros and cons for having their procedures so open to the public, though; on that, I need to research and think some more.

For those wanting a quick introduction to the topic, here’s Lee LeFever with Wikis in Plain English.  Enjoy.

Alex Gopher, “The Child” (1999)

While I could try and justify posting this here, the attempt would probably be pretty flimsy.  So I’ll just confess straight off that I’ve just dicovered this fabulous video, which I couldn’t possibly not share, and since this is the only blog I’m writing…


Libraries on TV, part 2

Not all users would be familiar with this sort of Library or Archive, in which Librarians or Archivists bring the books from secured storage to users for their research. Studying at UWO means that we do have access to rare materials and even these sort of white glove reading room experiences. Unlike the bibliocarnage Mr. Bean creates, users aren’t allowed to bring in any personal effects but paper for note taking; pencils and bookmarks are supplied.

Yours to enjoy or recoil in horror, Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean in “The Liberary” [sic].

Libraries on TV

I’m loving surfing. These weekly readings get me back into “the zone” of seeking information online. Somehow, that led to this skit of Cookie Monster, seeking what he seeks best, in a Library.

It brings to mind user-centred design of Library services. And I’d much rather let users nibble and sip than lose them to other information access points (home computers, bookstores, and the like).

Just a confession: is rapidly becoming one of my favourite tools. It’s been very helpful to be able to tag online resources for the Library I work for. I’m looking forward to sharing it with my colleagues.