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* Tuesday, January 18, 2005

MLS February Tech Summit on Social Bookmark Services

Now that our new MLS Calendar of Events is live, I can promote our next Tech Summit, which I will be presenting on the topic of social bookmark sites. Here's the relevant info:

Technology Summit - Social Bookmark Services
Event ID #169
Thursday, February 17, 2005
1:30 PM - 4:00 PM
At the MLS, Burr Ridge office
Registration is not limited to MLS members
Cost: $0

It's actually a sneaky way to start a discussion about online social services and networks in general and how libraries are totally not paying attention to them. One of the things OCLC's 2003 Environmental Scan talks about is "circles of trust" and how libraries need to re-insert themselves into users' online circles. I think these services are one way to do that at the point of the user's need.

They'll have other impacts on libraries, too, though, especially services like Flickr and that let users tag items with their own vocabularies. When someone gets used to retrieving items using the words they think of, not the words we think of, do you think they'll still be willing to type "LastName, FirstName" to find an author? Will they understand a title search that accepts exact phrases only? (Those are rhetorical questions and the correct answers are "no" and "no," even if you offer keyword searching hidden elsewhere on your catalog.)

So how could we make better use of the integration of folksonomies and user-based vocabularies? I'm not suggesting we throw the bath water out with the baby, because I'm also a big fan of structured searching, and let's face it - one of the things Google isn't good at is searching structured data. But why can't we offer both? They aren't mutually exclusive.

Why can't our catalogs let users find items of interest and then store them for later retrieval using their own tags. Take a look at this Flickr page for architecture. Notice the "related" and "see also" links? The same thing happens on the page for architecture. Imagine the display of this type of folksonomy integrated into a library's catalog, so that users could find titles and subjects for "architecture," but they could also browse by tags (such as "buildings" or "urban"), which they could then bookmark themselves and specify as "public" or "private" (like Furl's "private archive" feature). Aggregate the public tags and let users access their private ones.

What if records retrieved from structured OPAC search results displayed those types of user-based tags alongside the MARC data? It would be the best of both worlds, although, I believe I hear a very audible groan from the ILS vendors. Then, if a user is really interested in a particular topic, she could subscribe to the feed for the standard subject search, the aggregated user-generated public tag, or a combination of both.

Another idea: let's add visual "what's popular" and "what's recommended" pages like these to our catalogs. I have to say, I was stunned to realize that our SWAN catalog seems incapable of producing a "what's new" page on its own (and I'm not talking about an RSS feed, just a standard HTML page).

Now take this a step further and apply it to reader's advisory. It's pretty obvious that users like sharing their own thoughts and information. Why not take advantage of that? Imagine the read-alikes and recommendations users would build using their own folksonomies! Let them tag cozy mysteries and robot sci fi and financial nonfiction titles how they want to find them. And if you really want to get social about the whole thing, how about building out those tags cross-catalog? What would WorldCat look like if tagged by users, especially now that OCLC has opened it up?

I guess my point is that it doesn't have to be one or the other. I think controlled vocabularies and folksonomies can co-exist peacefully and even complement each other. And as librarians, let's start making use of them to complement what we're already doing.

In addition, we can make better use of these ideas amongst ourselves. I suggest that for the next library conference that wants to be blogged, we establish ahead of time a Flickr tag for the photos. And how about a tag for links discussed by presenters? And how about an agreed-upon Technorati tag for posts that go to personal blogs rather than an official conference blog? Actually, I believe the Technorati search would find all three anyway. We've had fits and starts to head in this direction, but let's pull it all together.

In retrospect, it all seems kind of obvious (even though Technorati tags didn't really exist before the ALA conference started), but I always say the best way to learn about new things and understand their potential is to use them. If I had been able to, I would have tried to integrate these ideas into the intranet/extranet we're building at MLS because I think they'd have value there, too. Ideally, I'd like to let every user (or at least those that have logins) tag bits of information in our system that get inserted as additional metadata. Maybe I can make this a phase two project.

Anyway, it's something to think about, and this is definitely a trend for libraries to watch. I'm going to start the Tech Summit by saying I'm Morpheus, standing before you with a red pill and a blue pill. Take the red pill, and you'll walk out feeling overwhelmed, but excited, and you'll track what happens in this area because you'll understand it will affect libraries. Take the blue pill, and you'll walk out shaking your head in denial, believing that all of this won't impact patron expectations at all and that they'll continue to contort themselves to our searches, rather than us having to do the reverse.

At the end, I'll have to ask folks to indiciate red pill or blue pill on the evaluations. If all of this sounds like an interesting discussion, I think it will be, and I hope to see you there! :-)

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