Our next Brain Gain session will investigate the use of social tagging technology for library science. We briefly investigated social tagging in an earlier post on social software. Popularized by sites such as del.icio.us, which offers users the ability to share their web bookmarks by labeling them with a personalized set of descriptor "tags", and Flickr, which allows users to share and find photos via tagging, this phenomenon is part of a larger "social software" movement that empowers users to organize information via a bottom-up "folksonomy". That's fine for bookmarks and photos, but could this type of social tagging allow users to organize library content? And if so, why would libraries sanction such a system?
Our guest will help us explore these questions and more. Adam Seldow is a doctoral student in the Education, Policy, Leadership, and Instructional Practice program at Harvard's Graduate School of Education (HGSE). He's the founder of TeacherShare.org, an online class website and gradebook, and is currently piloting social tagging with HGSE's Gutman Library.
From a student perspective, there are numerous benefits of social tagging. Access to the universe of material tagged by their peers and professors increases the scope of research and discovery. "Gray literature" -- materials not yet published or peer-reviewed, blog posts, discussion forum entries, ezines, websites, podcasts -- could now be categorized and shared. The use-case would involve a student searching their library resources online and receiving a search results list that first presented "official" findings based on the keywords used in the search but then also presented additional community-generated 'popular' tags for each item.
Ultimately proponents argue that this is good for academic research for the same reason it was good for bookmarks and photos -- the chances of finding what you want dramatically increase when you can search the accumulated knowledge of tags created by the community vs. those created by a single, top-down taxonomy. Plus there is the added benefit of being able to classify items with tags related to specific sub-communities -- tagging content with a specific Harvard course identifier, etc.
And if it literally helps students find materials, then some libraries have decided that it is a good business to investigate. UPenn, Yale, and Oregon State already have pilot programs in place. And there are already systems in place that libraries and students can leverage. Connotea is a social tagging service operated by the Nature Publishing Group (short video overview of Connotea). Connotea even allows users to export their link libraries into EndNote, a popular software package used by researchers to manage their bibliographic sources. Bookmarklets exist that allow sites bookmarked in a browser to automatically be added to users' del.icio.us and Conntea accounts. Adam has also introduced tagging into his GradeWeb site for teachers hosting content online. He used open-source bookmarking software available from Scuttle.
We'll discuss Adam's work with HGSE's Gutman Library as well as what the HBS library and instructional technology community thinks about its application here.