Why we need librarians, or tagging vs folksonomy, some explanations

David Weinberger has a concise summary of Thomas Mann’s long article about the concept of reference and scholarship and how it fits into modern day librarianship, especially research libraries. This is the sort of thing Michael Gorman talks about in grouchy pundit ways, but Mann really digs deeper and seems to understand both sides of the equation. Weinberger’s posts sums up some of the high points with some strong pullquotes, but I’d really also suggest reading Mann’s entire essay. Here are some quotes that I liked, but don’t think that gets you off the hook from reading it. You hve to get to about page 35 before you hit the “what sholdl we do about this?” part.

I cannot claim to have a system that flattens all the lumps, but I am concerned that many of the more important problems facing scholars are being ignored because a “digital library” paradigm puts blinders on our very ability to notice the problems in the first place.

On different types of searching:

Note that as a reference librarian I could bring to bear on this question a whole variety of different search techniques, of which most researchers are only dimly aware of (or not aware at all): I used not just keyword searching, but subject category searching (via LC=s subject headings), shelf-browsing (via LC’s classification system), related record searching, and citation searching. (I also did some rather sophisticated Boolean combination searching, with truncation symbols and parentheses, discussed below.) Further, as a librarian I thought in terms of types of literature–specialized encyclopedia articles, literature review articles, subject bibliographies–whose existence never even occurs to most non-librarians, who routinely think only in terms of subject searches rather than format searches. And, further, one of the reasons I sought out the Web database to begin with was that I knew it would also provide people contact information–i.e., the mail and e-mail addresses of scholars who have worked on the same topic. The point here needs emphasis: a research library can provide not only a vast amount of content that is not on the open Internet; it can also provide multiple different search techniques that are usually much more efficient than “relevance ranked” and “more like this” Web searching. And most of these search techniques themselves are not available to offsite users who confine their searches to the open Internet.

On folksonomies:

While folksonomies have severe limitations and cannot replace conventional cataloging, they also offer real advantages that can supplement cataloging. Perhaps financial arrangements with LibraryThing (or other such operations) might be worked out in such a way that LC/OCLC catalog records for books would provide clickable links to LibraryThing records for the same works. In this way researchers could take advantage of that supplemental network of connections without losing the primary network created by professional librarians.

tagswarming @ your library

The Missouri Botanical Garden is tagging the illustrations in their collection using volunteers and a shared del.icio.us account. They call this approach TagSwarming. Here is their tag cloud, and here is the blog entry from the digital library guy who created this project. They are always looking for helpers, if this sort of project idea intrigues you.

taxonomy vs. ontology vs. folksonomy

One library student tells it like it is: “If librarianship seems buzzwordy now, it’s because the Web has made enough people aware of the problem of classifying and finding information that it seems like our field has sprung up overnight.”

hive mind and libraries

The Hive Mind: Folksonomies and User-Based Tagging. A pretty impressive first post by a reference librarian. Make sure you read down to the “libraries that tag” part of this essay. Bruce Sterling says “pretty bold word s coming from a librarian.” Huh?

Flickr, Tagging and the F-Word, a talk by me

Here are the notes for the short talk I gave today: Flickr, Tagging and the F-Word. I’ll see if Jenny’s are around, she had a lot more examples and expanded a lot on this one small area I talked about. Talk was well-received, thanks if you were one of the people in attendance.

on findability, folksonomy, authority, and you, the librarian

I bet you will like findability guru Peter Morville’s article on Authority [in the librarian sense] even more than you might otherwise because of its beautiful design and high readability.

You see, tags are only the visible, superficial symbols of a much deeper, more interesting revolution in findability and authority. Wikipedia doesn’t beat Britannica because it has better folksonomies. It wins because it’s more findable. And its success didn’t come without structure. In fact, the Wikipedia has a traditional information architecture (with strong design conventions and a fixed left-hand navigation bar) and a traditional governance model (with Jimbo Wales and his Board of Trustees as the ultimate corporate authority).

[web4lib]

I’ll say it again: folksonomy

Folksonomy, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mess. An impressionistic transcript by Cory Doctorow.

It’s a deep philosophical issue: Ontology is a controversial subject. The idea that it’s possible to cleave nature at the joints is controversial. Yes, there are countries, Uzbekistan is a country, but ask a physicist or a biologist and the categories are very fraught.