Saturday, January 22, 2005

Folksonomies

There is a debate raging on folksonomies vs controlled vocabularies. Both sides seem to adopt an either/or position, things are rarely so clear-cut. They seem to place librarians on the side of control and it is true we have developed subject heading lists, thesauri and classification systems. However, we also recognize the importance of fields 653 and 690 in subject cataloging. The inclusion of TOC information and summary statements that contain other terms useful to access for our users is also part of good cataloging. Good cataloging uses both controlled and uncontrolled vocabularies.

Another mistake the folks debating make is to assume all material deserves the same level of treatment. Those millions of pictures of cats or millions of abandoned weblogs are hardly deserving of much more than being spidered by Google, if that. Something like the Report on the Challenger Accident demands full treatment. I think it was Michael Gorman who years ago said that there are basically four levels of materials, those deserving of full cataloging (MARC, EAD, FGDC), those deserving of qualified Dublin Core or some similar level of minimal level of description, those deserving unqualified Dublin Core and those that the search engines can provide access for. Folksonomies can be useful in providing some kind of access to the great mass of material in the latter two categories. It can provide additional points of access in the previous two groups.

The other thing about folksonomies is that they could provide a useful topic of study. Users are wondering whether to use the singular or plural, they are finding that a popular term becomes useless when it becomes too common. This could be useful in showing how our users approach access issues and inform our practice.

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