Tuesday, November 24, 2009

FW: User tags (was Sarah Palin)

On Mon, 23 Nov 2009 11:22:57 -0700, john g marr wrote:

>On Mon, 23 Nov 2009, James Weinheimer wrote:

>> On Fri, 20 Nov 2009 14:08:15 -0500, Henriksen, Phalbe wrote:
>>> Is the library's catalogue going to degenerate into a free-for-all
>>> political forum???

>> While I certainly sympathize with this view, I think that this may be the
>> price to the library if we are to enter the Web2.0 world: we lose control
of a lot of tasks where we were the absolute masters previously.
> The question is not whether we should retain a form of "mastery" or "pay
>a price" not to play techno-political conformity games, but whether we
>should continue to be and become increasingly responsible for providing
>factual data for public consumption in a transparent and unbiased manner.

So, are you saying that we should not allow users to tag the records? As I tried to point out, there are essentially two options: 1) to not allow tagging 2) to allow tagging. There are several options in how to implement user tagging.

If we allow tagging, then it can either be managed or not managed. If it is managed, it will demand library resources (perhaps a lot) and there will be some very tricky moments, I am sure. If we want to scrub out obscenties, we can do at least a lot of it through automated means, but that still leaves room for a lot of tags out there. If we manage it, what criteria do we use? Do we maintain that we are the ones who are "objective," "unbiased" or "fair and balanced" while the others aren't?

Of course, just because someone may be a teacher or faculty member does not make them immune to bias and subjectivity. How do we explain to users that "our tags" (i.e. traditionally assigned subject headings) are *not* biased, while theirs are? Or their tags may be, depending on how we feel that day? More importantly, how do we get users to agree to our pronouncements without making a huge fuss? I see it that if we manage user tags, we will be opening a huge, political, can of worms.

Web services may provide some solutions, but offer just as many pitfalls since we can import tags and reviews from other sites, but this means that we would still have to decide how to manage it or not and (at least I hope!) others will be able to take our records and do what they will with them, including changing them, or displaying them with the tags and keywords *they* want. For example, I have no doubt that there are some people who would love to take our records with the author of "William Shakespeare" and change the heading to the person that they believe was the "real" author of those works, e.g. Edward de Vere, Queen Elizabeth, Francis Bacon, or whoever is their favorite.

What I am trying to point out is that the world of cataloging is changing because our society is changing and there is nothing we can do about it. I don't like a lot of these changes in many ways, but they are being forced upon us and we must deal with problems and possibilities that our predecessors never had to face. We can decide to ignore it all, to keep "control" of everything, and maintain that ours is "better" than everyone else's, but that seems to me to take us down the path of eventual extinction. As Darwin said, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."

As an aside, I also find it very interesting that there is controversy among catalogers over adding user tags and other types of user inclusions (which the public has demonstrated that it wants), but there is almost no controversy over the switch to FRBR structures which have a much greater impact on cataloging and the catalogs, even though it has not been demonstrated that our public want it at all.

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