The 2nd in my series of emails to my staff. Some of you had remarked last time on the length of the first email, and I want to respond to that. These emails are not out of the blue; I've been sending informational emails to the library staff for years, most of which are somewhat lengthy. I know that many of the staff print them out and keep them in a binder to refer back to later. they appreciate the chatty nature and look forward to the next ones. So, while yes, the emails are a bit long, that's what my audience is expecting.
Now, here's the second in my series. I'd love to know what y'all think.
Tagging: It's not just for graffiti anymore
I was going to write about social bookmarking (del.icio.us) this time, but the number of questions and comments I got about tagging from many staff members made me think that there might be more of you out there that want more information about this aspect of library 2.0 first. And, when I think about it, tagging overlays so many of the web 2.0 concepts, that it's as good a place as any to start.
The Short Version of Traditional "Tagging"
Librarians have been classifying things for as long as we’ve been around. We apply controlled vocabularies to items: subject headings, author names, and other "authorized terms" to items so that people looking for them can find them using the catalog. And there are multiple controlled vocabularies, often defined by discipline (the one used in government documents, for example is different than the one used in medical libraries) These terms are strictly controlled and are standard across most libraries. Which is great for librarians, but is tough for "normal" people, because some of this controlled vocabulary is, well, not intuitive.
There's a lot more that could be said about controlled vocabularies. Reams of pages and decades of research have already been done on them. But, in terms of what you need to know about tagging, this overview will do you just fine - if only to give you an understanding that tagging isn't new - it's just gone mainstream. For more overview, you can start with Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Controlled_vocabulary
Before there was the term web 2.0, there were web sites such as blogs and photo sharing sites where people created their own content to share. Somewhere along the line, the concept of adding descriptive words to this content came along and tagging was re-created. But instead of using strict language, people used what terms they thought described their creation. So, instead of canine to describe a photo of their dog Molly, they use "dog", "mutt", "Molly" or even all 3. And then, when they post more photos of Molly, they tag them with the same words so that things can be easily grouped together by tags.
Practical Uses for Tags
So what does this mean for you? Well, go check out the CPLS Flickr site I sent out earlier this week (www.flickr.com/photos/cpls
) and take a look at one of the photos. If you look at the one titled "A Library Visitor," you'll see that it has tags listed on the right side of the screen: 365libs, library, clearwater public library system, cpls, dog, north greenwood library, public library. I assigned these tags when I put the photo up there. Now take a look at the tdi photos. The tags are different. If you click on the tags (they're links) you'll be taken to all the photos I've put up there that have the same tag. So if you want to find all the photos of the Main Library, click on the main library tag.
If you want to see all the tags that everyone on flickr has tagged with main library, you can do that too. Once you've clicked on the tag and see all the ones from CPLS, there's a link to "all public photos tagged with main library."
This is where tagging on social networking sites like flickr and del.icio.us work beautifully. Want to see all the photos of tulips? Search for that tag. Want to find all the bookmarks on del.icio.us regarding milk allergies? Search that tag.
Where it breaks down
Well, as awesome as tagging is, there are downsides to it. When I was writing this email, and I clicked on the main library tag for all the photos I had put up of Main. Turns out, I only put that tag on 5 of them. So I had to go back and add that tag to the rest. So downside 1 is remembering what you tagged before and use it again (flickr keeps a pool of the tags you've used that you can just choose from if you wish, I just didn't).
Also, when you're searching all users tags, you'll get some interesting results. For example, in flickr, use the search box at the top left to search for the word "water" and search for everyone's photos (you'll have to click the arrow next to the word "search" to get the option to search everyone). You'll get everything from creeks and streams to a runner holding a bottle of water. This makes it occasionally tough to find what you're looking for, especially if you're used to controlled vocabularies where one word brought up everything and now you have to search for H20, water, streams, rivers, oceans, etc. to cover it all. But what it does do is allow for serendipity to take over occasionally.
Anyway, this is getting long, and is just intended to spark discussion. But think about it - if users can tag items in our catalog with their own words and then share those words with others, how fabu would that be? Talk about user created content and being in a place where we as a library are engaging our users as never before!