Let’s Play Library Tag…You’re It!

Any kind of user-generated tags can suffer from a severe case of selfishness and lack of self-control. User tags are the ultimate in uncontrolled vocabulary. Ever notice how a search for the word ‘dog’ in Flickr retrieves some cute, furry dogs, but also hot dogs and some guys with the nickname Dog? People tend to apply tags that are very personal.

Someone who owns a dog named Blueberry might tag all photos with the word blueberry despite the fact that the canine in question is not blue, round nor a fruit. In this way, user generated tags are also fairly ambiguous.

That said, there are many advantages to allowing user tags in library catalogs. With some guidelines, tags can contribute greatly to personal rediscovery of items, a sense of community building, the tracking and displaying of item popularity, and if employed correctly, a potential reduction in cataloging costs coupled with enhanced metadata.

Libraries enabling user tagging should follow a few steps to ensure success.

  • Policy: Prior to enabling user tagging, develop and post a policy on tagging similar to a policy on blog comments. Simple guidelines like no profanity, limit of number of tags, or formats will help users focus their efforts.
  • Moderation: In conjunction with a clear user tagging policy, libraries should develop a plan to monitor tags periodically to ensure compliance.
  • The Look of Tags: Tags should look different from the catalog record. Tag clouds, lists in the sidebar, or a different font or colors can help users distinguish the user-generated tags from the formal library generated subject headings.
  • Keep It Simple: Users won’t tag if it is not easy, fun and beneficial to their use of the catalog. Too many steps, a complex interface and too many rules will be off putting. 
  • “Tag-gregate” Content: Does your library have eight copies of The DaVinci Code – four regular books, one e-book, an audio book, a large print book and a movie? Find a way to cross-pollinate the relevant user tags on all related records.

 User-tags can complement and add value to library records and to the user experience of searching the online catalog. People like to contribute, which is one of the brilliant things about harnessing the power of collective intelligence. While it may be a while before the entire library collection is crowd sourced, the strategic integration of user content is here now. Let’s use it.

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