Parallel systems: the coexistence of subject cataloging and folksonomy.

Author:Peterson, Elaine


Catalogers have always had to balance adherence to cataloging rules and authority files with creating cataloging that is current and relevant to users. That dilemma has been complicated in new ways because of user demands in the world of Web 2.0. Standardized cataloging is crucial for communication between computer systems, but patrons now have an expectation of social interaction on the Internet, as evidenced by the popularity of folksonomy. After a description of traditional subject cataloging and folksonomy, this article discusses several institutions where subject cataloging is still used, but where patron interaction is also encouraged. User-generated tags can coexist with controlled vocabulary such as subject headings.

Two Types of Subject Analysis

Subject cataloging has certain features that distinguish it from folksonomy. First, subject cataloging is a top-down approach, where the library professional determines the topical scope of the item being analyzed and assigns subjects to the bibliographic record. While recognizing user and library needs, the cataloger is the final arbiter of the subject headings. Second, the subject headings assigned are either prescribed or are derived according to rules that have been articulated. An obvious example is the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) with its accompanying manuals and interpretations.

Traditional subject cataloging is also hierarchical. Similar to taxonomy, subject groupings are generated in a tree-like, hierarchical structure. A cataloger working with a book on horses would apply the specific subject heading Horses even though a subset of the horses in the book are Arabians and some of them pictured are white. Moreover, if one did use the term White horses, it would be incorrect to assign the additional term Black horses. Contraries matter in a traditional classification system, and there are right and wrong subject headings.

In sum, library subject cataloging is based on established principles and rules. It is restrictive rather than inclusive, because choices are made by an information specialist who assigns a limited number of relevant subject headings. In the classical application of subject terms, the underlying assumption is that there are particular, relevant heading(s) to apply and that the author's intent is of primary importance, even though the needs of the library patron are given consideration. The cataloger aspires to be the unbiased professional, making cataloging decisions and without the interference of personal interpretations.

In contrast to subject cataloging, folksonomy is a reflection of personal preference. Folksonomy, or social bookmarking, emerged as a trend in 2005 as an alternative to traditional hierarchical cataloging.

As defined by Wikipedia, "Folksonomy is a collaboratively generated, open-ended labeling system that enables Internet users to categorize content such as Web pages, online photographs, and Web links." The article continues by explaining that "the freely chosen labels, called tags, help to improve search engine's effectiveness because content is...

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