Understanding Tags

The Athens County Public Libraries have been using Koha 3 since February 2009. Since that time there has been a feature available to patrons which hasn’t really been used: tags.

The Koha 3 OPAC offers feature where users can “Tag” records with keywords. Tags are generally used as a sort of user-generated subject heading, sometimes called a “folksonomy” because it’s a taxonomy created by regular folks.

Some might be familiar with two sites which were among the first popularize the idea of tags: Flickr.com and Del.icio.us. We used Flickr recently to share pictures of the Wells library reconstruction following a fire in June 2008.

Flickr tags list

Flickr tags list

If you browse around Flickr you’ll find that on each photo page there is a list of keywords found in the right column, labeled “Tags.” Take a look at one example, a picture of the New York Public library. The photo has been tagged with “New York City,” “Spring Break,” “vacation,” “Manhattan,” “New York Public Library,” and “architecture.” If you click on one of those tags,  you’ll see all the other photos by that user which were tagged with the same keyword. Then you can click the link to “See all public content tagged with newyorkcity

The nice thing about tagging is you don’t have to pick from a preselected set of categories. As you can see from the above example, you can categorize things not just by what they are in and of themselves, but what they are to you. The picture must have been taken during Spring Break vacation, and the user tagged it that way so that he could find all those vacation pictures at once.

Del.icio.us is a “social bookmarking” site. After creating a free account you can bookmark sites for later use, and add tags to help categorize them. Take a look at one of the other common features of systems which allow tagging: the tag cloud.

A tag cloud is both a menu and a visual representation of all the tags (or at least the most popular tags) in a system. In the Delicious example, “blog” and “design” are the largest terms in the list because they’re the most popular (with 6,769,771and 9,195,968 entries each, respectively!).

Koha 3 has this same functionality. If a non-logged-in user pulls up the details of a record in the OPAC, they’ll see “No tags from this library for this title. Log in to add tags.”

No tags yet!

No tags yet!

How can this be of use to the  patrons? What if you’re a kid looking for graphic novels, but they way you’d think to search for them would be to look for manga. Some of the hits you get will be relevant, but not everything. That’s because a lot of what you’re looking for is classified as Comic books, strips, etc. –Japan. If you’re a manga fan, you might look for your favorite titles and tag them so that you’ll be able to find them easily next time.

If you log in to the OPAC and add some tags, at first the only person who will see them is you. We have tag moderation enabled in Koha. A staff member can periodically check the list of tags and approve or reject them. If a patron-created tag is approved, it will show up in Koha’s tag cloud. If a tag is rejected, it won’t disappear from that patron’s personal set of tags, it simply won’t show up in the public list.

Tags in the OPAC have have critical, practical difference from tags on Flickr or Delicious: tags aren’t being used to categorize user-generated content. On Flickr, the user has a vested interest in tagging photos as they’re created, because it will help them keep track of their photos in the long run.

In the OPAC, records are created by catalogers, and patrons are accustomed to using standard methods (e.g. keyword searches) for finding them. I’m not sure what would motivate an OPAC user to take an active role in tagging items. The example I used of a book for which the “official” category didn’t match the user’s understood category is the one I would think would be most common.

Is that enough? For tags to be beneficial not just to the individual but to the general audience of OPAC users, the pool of existing tags may have to reach “critical mass.” Users clicking through to the tag cloud are sure to lose interest fast when they see nothing! I’m hoping to enlist the staff here to brainstorm about some useful tags and maybe get the ball rolling.

Have you ever been unable to find something in the library because it was categorized differently than you expected?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *