Categorizing Intertexts and Tagging in the Library Catalogue

I tend to conceptualize classification systems as the ultimate intertexts, functioning to weave works together within a network of references. Structured, thoughtfully devised classification systems require users to search for information while those users also read or navigate a text that imposes control over works (i.e. LC classification and subject headings). Tagging offers users the opportunity to manage information personally and to contribute to a social classification system (i.e. folksonomy).

I prefer to think of tagging as a manifestation of the ‘wisdom of a crowd,’ rather than as the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ since the classification systems that emerge through the assignment of user-generated descriptors are value-laden and tend to reflect a dominant or hegemonic perspective (see, for example, Bates and Rowley 2011). For that reason, I think it’s important to be able to monitor where, when, and by whom tags are assigned so that users can continue to negotiate how information is categorized and so that they are able to function effectively within the system (or to ‘talk back’ to the system).

Recently, I have been tagging in a university library OPAC. The University of Waterloo Library is participating in a trial of a search engine called Primo Central. This ‘discovery interface’ gives users the option to tag and post reviews of resources, but tagging in the library catalogue is not yet a popular practice. Primo Central includes everything found in the catalogue (which is called Trellis), but it includes resources outside of the catalogue increasingly. I’m mentioning this point because it seems to me that as the library incorporates more and more outside resources (i.e. resources that have not been formally catalogued and assigned subject headings according to LC standards), tagging may become more and more important for users who will not be able to rely solely on controlled subject headings as a means of collocating resources.

As I mention in the “Who Am I?” page of this blog, I am working as an assistant cataloguer in a co-op position at the University of Waterloo Library. I also get to work on the desk for a few hours each week and to participate in some library instruction involving basic searching practices. I’ve noticed that students don’t often consider logging in to search the catalogue. I think that this practice may indicate an underlying perception that users hold concerning the library catalogue—that they are searching “in here” (i.e. in the catalogue) for resources that are “out there” (i.e. somewhere else, such as in the stacks or in a separate database). I don’t think that this belief is particularly surprising (and it is often true), but I do think that it is important to educate users about the increasingly dynamic nature of the library catalogue as the in here/out there division continues to dissipate. Signing in is key because users can only create and add content such as tags to the catalogue when they authenticate as UW students/faculty/staff.

I also signed up for a Delicious account this week, and have been bookmarking/creating folders a little bit. Edward M. Corrado’s article about maintaining a subject guide using a social bookmarking site such as Delicious illustrates a creative way that a free web resource can be put to use by the library to help organize resources. I think that students could also benefit from using a social bookmarking site to create their own personalized subject guides that combine resources from the library’s subject guide which are used frequently with resources that are specific to the particular student’s needs and research interests (such as links to resources from other libraries’ guides, blogs, etc.).

Bates, Jo and Jennifer Rowley. “Social Reproduction and Exclusion in Subject Indexing: A Comparison of Public Library OPACs and LibraryThing Folksonomy.” Journal of Documentation, 67.3 (2011): 431-448.

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