Tagging according to personal librarians

LibraryThing is currently hosting a fascinating thread on tagging, “What does tagging do to knowledge (and they’re giving away copies of Everything is Miscellaneous to ten commenters).

The site is a place to catalog personal book collections, and they’re also working with libraries and booksellers to share their useful information. Because the community is interested in books and in libraries and in classification, some of the thread comments are fascinating. Some are from laypeople, others from librarians, archivists, etc.

“I like fun tags that are so personal or unique that nobody else uses them. A friend of mine, for example, has tags like “Detectives with gimmicks”, “Elaborate crimes”, “Witty people being clever”, and my favorite “Fangirlin'”. I myself want to use a tag for “Farm boys with magical destinies” but it’s apparently too long.” – saturnine13

“Conversely, the most intriguing tags (autistic-like character, Kleenex, the end of Pottermania) are almost inevitably used by only a single member.” – SilentInAWay

This reminds me of Elizabeth Bear’s LiveJournal tags, such as a policeman’s work is never done, all three sides of the story, and ask a stupid question.

“First, tags really only seem to work for organizing stuff you have some sort of conceptual “ownership” of – things that in some way you have an incentive to keep order within. People don’t seem to want to tag in enough quantity / detail to be useful when they don’t have a personal stake in sorting through the resultant mess.” – cubeshelves

I wonder how this relates to people’s del.icio.us collections getting out of control? Perhaps that mostly happens when they’re saving “interesting links” rather than “links related to this interest or project”. In the former case, it’s not at all clear what tags will be useful over time (level of detail, omitting broader categories, forgetting what’s been used before, etc.). In the latter case, the focus of a particular area lends itself both to continuity in tags and to having “a personal stake in sorting through the resultant mess” – or a stake in not letting it become a mess.

“In a small community, though, tags are very interesting. Not only do they provide the advantages mentioned above, but they also allow the community to negotiate meaning and context — the types of tags that are used, and the content of those tags says something about what is meaningful to a community.” – Placebogirl

But getting critical mass of tags in a small community is hard. One of the great things about Flickr, for instance, is that there are enough people tagging enough photos that I can easily find a Creative Commons licensed photo of just about anything to put into a presentation. Maybe this is just an instance of many intersecting small communities in one place, so that the wider world gets the advantage of each of those smaller groups’ tagging efforts.

“Something I’ve found frustrating about the tags I find on books here is _sometimes_ nearly all the tags are personal. If I am looking for sci fi recommendations about Intergalactic Travel, well, very few people use that tag. In fact, a fair number of the sci fi books will tell me the main character, series, where people have stored it, etc. without telling me what its world-view/situation is (such as psi, alien encounters, culture clashes, intergalactic civilization, parallel worlds, etc.) Those were things I was hoping to learn from other people’s tags, and, at the moment, can’t always figure out.” – EowynA

When cataloging physical books, the first instinct seems to be to tag with physical locations (coffee table), ownership (mine vs my boyfriend’s), personal state (unread), etc. Books’ contents come after personal reactions.

“Is there a genre that has a low/no rate of tagging? Why would that be? How would one find it if it isn’t tagged? ” – hexmap

A symbol for zero was invented much later than those for positive numbers. Stumbling on Happiness talks about people ignoring the intervening time when thinking about how they’ll feel in the future. Clearing your mind while meditating is difficult. Absence of information questions are a lot harder than presence of information questions.

“I have to admit, I never got really excited about tagging until we could search multiple tags. That ability has made me rethink how I tag things. ” Katissima

Tagmashes are fascinating. I’m looking forward to playing with them.

About Jennifer Berk

I'm an analytics and data leader with a marketing and product mindset. I like online newspapers, science fiction and fantasy, and ugly fish.
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