Tagging and motivation in library catalogs?

Eh, this comment was long enough I might as well post it here too, revised and expanded a bit. (I’ve been flagging on the blogging lately). Karen Schneider thinks about “tagging in a workflow context

Tagging in library catalogs hasn’t worked yet for a number of reasons…

Karen goes on to discuss much of the ‘when’ of tagging, but I still think the ‘why’ of tagging is more relevant. Why would a user spend their valuable time adding tags to books in your library catalog?

I think the vast majority of succesful tagging happens when users tag to aid their OWN workflow. Generally to keep track of things. You tag on delicious to keep track of your bookmarks. You tag on librarything to organize your collections. The most succesful tagging isn’t done to help _other_ people find things, but to keep track of things yourself–at least not at first, not the tagging that builds the successful tag ecology. Most cases of a successful tagging community where people do to tag to help others find things–I’d suggest it would be because it somehow benefits them personally to help people find things. Such as, maybe, tagging your blog posts on wordpress.com because you want others to find your blog posts–still a personal benefit.

A succesful tag ecology is generally built on tagging actions that serve very personal interests which do not need the succesful tagging ecology on top of it. Interests served even if you are the only one who is tagging. The succesful tagging ecology which builds out of it–and which goes on to provide collective benefit that was not the original intent of the taggers–is an epiphenomenon.

Amazon might be a notable exemption to this hypothesis, perhaps because it such a universally used service before tagging already. (Unlike our library catalogs).  I would be interested to understand what motivates users to tag in Amazon. Anyone know of anyone who’s looked into this? It’s also possible that if amazon’s tags are less useful, it is in fact because of this lack of personal benefit from tagging.

So what personal benefit can a user get in tagging in a library catalog? If we provided better ’saved records’ features, perhaps, keep tracks of books you’ve checked out, books you might want to check out, etc. But I’m not sure if our users actually USE our catalogs enough to find this useful, no matter how good a ’saved records’ feature we provide. In an academic setting, items from the catalog no longer neccesarily make up a majority of a user’s research space.

To me, that suggests, can we capture tags from somewhere else? My users export items to refworks. Does refworks allow tagging yet? If it did, is there a way to export (really re-import) these tags BACK to the catalog, when a user tags something? But even if so, it would be better if Refworks somehow magically aggregated tags from _different_ catalogs, of the same work. But that relies on identifier issues we haven’t solved yet. If our catalogs provide persistent URLs (which they don’t usually, which is a tragedy), users COULD tag in delicious if they wanted to. Is there a way to scan delicious for any tags including your catalogs url, and import those back in?

In addition to organizing one’s research and books/items of interest, are there other reasons it would serve a patron’s interest to tag, other things they could get out of it?  A professor might tag books of interest for their students, perhaps (not that most professors are looking for more technological things to spend time on helping students, but some are).   And librarians themselves might tag things with non-controlled-vocabulary topic areas they know would be of use to a particular class or program or department, with terms of use to those classes or programs or departments.  Can anyone think of any other reasons tagging could be of benefit to a user (not whether a successful tagging ecology would be of collective benefit–but benefits an individual user can get from assigning tags in a library catalog).

Worldcat covers a much larger share of my academic users’ research universe than my own catalog. And worldcat has solved the “aggregating different copies of this work from different libraries” problem to some extent. Which is why it would make so much sense for worldcat to offer a tagging service–which can be easily incorporated into your own local catalog for both assigning and displaying tags (if not for searching) ala library thing. It is astounding to me that OCLC hasn’t provided this yet. It seems to be a very ‘low hanging fruit’ (a tagging interface on worldcat.org with a good API is not rocket science) that is worth a try.

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9 Responses to Tagging and motivation in library catalogs?

  1. This is a good post about motivation and tagging.

    As a public-library user, without breaking a sweat I can think of several reasons I would tag (though I’d probably prefer to rate/rank/review): to track books I’ve read, with related commentary; to track books I want to read (though this would be unnecessary if catalogs had queues, a topic that came up in Top Tech Trends last January); to create lists for others (which can be very self-directed activity for a mom or the head of a reading club); to collocate books on interesting topics (and I take mild issue with your comment about “non-controlled-vocabulary topic areas,” because if I’m consistently using a tag, it’s a “controlled vocabulary”).

    Personal activity can have communal outcomes (which I know is simply repeating what you’re saying). Aside from motivation, however, it has to be designed right to encourage the behavior (the way it’s brainlessly easy to tag in Delicious).

    I almost raised the point about WorldCat in my post, and am glad you did. The reality is that none of their social features are functional, whether or not they are present. They’re tacked-on in a most perfunctory manner — a point I bring up when I discuss reviewing in my presentations, because it leads to much different outcomes.

  2. jrochkind says:

    Thanks Karen. The mom/head-of-reading club scenario is convincing to me–although I worry about whether the public library is still a sufficiently large part of patron’s reading universe to make tagging in the public library catalog useful for these purposes, just as I worry about whether my library is a sufficiently large part of my patron’s research universe. But it’s still a convincing use case to me.

    But I must confess that I’m dubious and would want to see evidence that public library users actually _want_ to track public library books they’ve read or want to read (and do it through tags, and want to do it enough to justify tagging even with effortless tagging integrated into their task flow), or to collocate books on interesting topics (why? just for the heck of it?).

    And to me, tagging is, in aggregate, definitely an uncontrolled vocabularly, even if an individual user uses tags in a consistent way, the tag cloud in the aggregate in general is something much less standardized and rule-based than our traditional controlled vocabularies. Which doesn’t prevent it from being useful of course!

    But yeah, I agree that to have a succesful tagging community/ecology, we would need to answer _both_ the “why” (motivation) and the “when/how” (making it as effortless and convenient as possible) of tagging. Even the most effortless tagging work flow isn’t going to produce tagging unless users have a reason to tag, and understanding use cases for tagging is probably important to succesfully create those effortless interfaces (and creating lower barriers to users is surely important).

  3. Pingback: to tag or not to tag « lib.o.matic

  4. phu says:

    i don’t tag to keep track of my bookmarks but to share them. IMO many/most of the tags in delicious are part of natural language not keywords (besides tagger=librarian), they are contextual. does it really make sense to aggregate tags from different applications?

    “understanding use cases for tagging”
    this is crucial, e.g. in an academic setting the workflow of a teacher might include tagging for her students

    “I would be interested to understand what motivates users to tag in Amazon. Anyone know of anyone who’s looked into this?”
    see http://www2007.org/workshops/paper_55.pdf

  5. jrochkind says:

    Thanks phu, that article is interesting, although I kept hoping they’d actually talk to some users, instead of just analyze the tags and guess the author’s intent! But it’s still interesting.

  6. This has also been summarized as “personal value precedes network value”.

  7. Jonathan Rochkind says:

    If OCLC were to provide an API to let me embed tagging into my own software, such that the tags would be saved to the aggregated Worldcat database, then we’d really be somewhere. I know OCLC wants Worldcat to be the only place (or the main place, or the first place) that users go for all of their discovery and other bibliographic needs. But for many of our institutions–and for many of our users individually–that just doesn’t make sense. I need a tagging system I can embed in any software I can embed it in.

    And I need to not give my users yet another login, I need to use our institutional enterprise logins.

    But the more important point is the “personal value precedes network value”, see Jodi’s link. Why would users spend time tagging in worldcat, anyway? I don’t expect this feature to see much use, as it is.

  8. Pingback: Library Catalogs 2.0: Ignacio: University of San Francisco Libraries « Luddite Twotopia's Blog

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