Tagging thoughts

I’ve been pondering again. So I’m going to inflict it on you.

We have recently added Chili Fresh reviews to our catalogue.  I like it, its easy to use, easy to add reviews, we have the weight of Chili Fresh reviews from around the world to populate our catalogue and they have some really cool social networking features coming soon.

Tagging from the Darien Catalogue

Tagging from the Darien Catalogue

But Chili Fresh doesn’t have user tagging (at least not yet).  Which of course got me thinking about tagging.

A common problem experienced in public libraries and I’m sure in other libraries too, is when you have a user come up and say something like:

“Can you help me, I’m looking for a book that I have had before. Its about gardening, its green and its about this big (demonstration using hands).”

They can’t remember anything about the author, but sometimes they can remember more about the content.  In the above type of example, it would be something about vegetables.

Barring miraculous circumstances, (like you have read that same book), or the luck of finding said book on shelf or trolley in roughly the place you would expect it to be, the likelihood of finding it with that information alone is nigh impossible.

So my reasoning was that if users could tag our catalogue records with that sort of information, it we be of great use to both them and us in finding that same title in future.

A few problems with my reasoning as I pondered further.

First would be getting the users to tag the details in the first place. Although we have a few people (more than we expected) putting reviews on our catalogue, it is nowhere near critical mass.

Second, do you know how many green books about gardening, let alone vegetables, we have?

And finally, the piece de resistance.  You finally find that book that the user was so desperate for and the only thing they got right was that it was about gardening. As for the rest of it, the subject was hydroponics, the book was orange and it was a very different shape and size.

Now only if we could tag each item by its actual details as well as its perceived details, we might have something.  But by then, the tags will take up more than a screen of detail and would probably send the catalogue search feature into meltdown.

When we do get tagging (and we will somehow, someday), we won’t stop our users from adding this sort of information, but I guess only experience will be able to tell us if it will be of any help.

What sort of ideas have you had about new technologies, which might not work so well in a library situation?  Maybe we can help you resolve your problems around it. Would also love to hear your thoughts on this one.

4 comments

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    • Rachel on January 15, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    I have always wanted to see a tag of ‘big red book’ or similar.

    • Tom on January 15, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    “First would be getting the users to tag the details in the first place”

    It’s a bit of a problem isn’t it… Just thinking outside the square here:

    – How about retrofitting our controlled access chutes with technology that requires patrons to tag each item they return or else the chute won’t open? (Yes, I’m being stupid ‘cos it’s a Friday!)

    It would be nice however to offer something to patrons whose preference/strength is in spatial intelligence (the “big red book” people) rather than the linguistic intelligence crowd that we cater to exclusively at the moment in our discovery tools. Perhaps using the information in the 300 tag in combination with bookjacket images might offer scope for innovative solutions, eg. a catalogue search based on lifesize 3d images of items? (okay, put that down to post-Avatar daydreaming…)

  1. Some great ideas Tom. There are some days when I would be clamouring to do the first one. But you have a point about catering to the linguistic, rather than the spatial and I like the ideas of having bookjacket images as an option. Problem then becomes which jacket from which publishing run…….

    Ah well, its nice to dream.

  2. Nice ideas. Glad to hear you are using Chili Fresh and finding it useful.

    I think incorporating LibraryThing for Libraries in the catalogue would solve some of those very personal tagging issues. People are often tagging their own items for their own consumption, so may well have the idiosyncratic tags you are after.

    I know the experience at Darien library once they added tagging was the way that *librarians* used it to tag the collection. They became major users. There is a nice example of a teacher who phoned wanting items on a particular topic in the next couple of hours. A team of staff each tagged about 10 items with the same tag relevant to the search and there was an instant collection tailored exactly to that request.

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