One of the best and most innovative features of BiblioCommons is the way in which it increases the success rate of searches by bringing together LCSH (Library of Congress Subject Headings) and user tags.
The use of subject headings and tags has often been seen as an either/or situation, and there is undeniably tension between the “official” library-sanctioned terms which cataloguers use to describe books and the words which Joe and Jane Public may prefer. However both subject headings and tags have advantages and drawbacks. By aggregating the two, BiblioCommons offers users the best of both worlds.
The following articles outline some of the ways in which tags can increase the chances of users (and staff!) identifying resources which they may be interested in.
- The Complementarity of Tags and LCSH — A Tagging Experiment and Investigation into Added Value in a New Zealand Library Context (This links to a PDF document – scroll to page 292, which is the 29th page of the PDF.)
- User Tags versus Subject Headings: Can User-Supplied Data Improve Subject Access to Library Collections?
And if you are too rushed to read the articles (yes, the second one is a bit long!), here are my very condensed “Coles” notes:
- Increasing numbers of people are comfortable with the concept of using tags – they are everywhere on the web (Facebook, YouTube, Flickr…)
- Adding tags to the catalogue is an easy first step towards greater engagement and contribution by users to the library website
- Tags can describe aspects of resources that LCSH ignore, such as tone and theme. They also reflect better the way we speak and can accommodate new trends (e.g. steampunk)
- Cataloguers assign subject headings without having read the book in its entirety, whereas users usually tag items after they have read them.
- Tags lack precision and structure however and can be very basic (e.g. a book on Rwanda’s civil war may simply be tagged as “non-fiction” and “Africa”.)
- Many tags are of only personal interest (“yet to read”, “present”)
- Cataloguers select subject headings that summarise the main subject of the item being catalogued, whereas readers’ tags may identify a very specific, and perhaps minor, aspect of the resource. (This of course is both a plus and a minus)
- Items are on average assigned only 3-4 subject headings, but tags are usually far more numerous – hence by combining tags and LCSH catalogues are far richer in content.
Just a final point, if this has inspired you to go out and tag:
“User-generated content added to a title is immediately visible, but may take up to 20 minutes to be searchable, because it needs to be indexed. For example, a tag added to a title will appear on the title record immediately, but a search using that tag will not immediately return the title.”….more
Upper Riccarton Library