|Map comparing term used for soft drinks by county, |
created by Matthew T. Campbell and Professor Greg Plumb of East Central University in Oklahoma
This sounds as though catalogers have solved the problem of determining the “correct” term and have tamed the unmanageable languages of the world, but they haven’t quite accomplished this yet. For one, the types of materials that cultural institutions hold are so broad that sometimes these square pegs must be prodded to fit into the round holes. As technology and materials evolve it sometimes takes longer for the established systems and vocabularies to catch up.
Even with the continual improvement of metadata schemas, there is still going to be a gap between the language used by professional catalogers and the language of the everyday user trying to find an item. Controlled vocabularies are controlled – everyday language is not.
“Soda” and “Pop” Can Coexist
What if the public could add descriptive information in their own words as opposed to the institution’s language? Several museums and other cultural institutions (including those associated with Steve: The Museum Social Tagging Project) have begun testing the possibilities of public tagging. Users contribute descriptive terms, keywords, or short phrases, also known as tags, to an item’s record to enhance searching. If users describe and tag an item in the same way that they would search for it, then public tagging ultimately helps retrievability. For each tag that is added, an item has another access point – another way for other users to discover that item. Many users may already be familiar with tagging if they have used sites such as Del.icio.us, which allows users to tag their own bookmarked websites, Flickr or Facebook.
The Smithsonian’s Collections Search Center has recently launched a pilot project that implements an experimental tagging feature for records of participating Smithsonian museums, archives and libraries including the Archives of American Gardens. Public tagging is not perfect and some traditionalists may be leery. However, tagging is not meant as a replacement for established cataloging methods but rather as a complement that adds a helpful element of user engagement and interaction.
Visit the Archives of American Gardens Virtual Volunteer page to get started on tagging images.
Kayla Burns, Intern
Archives of American Gardens