Archive for the ‘academics’ Category

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Dirigo!* (Maine takes the lead)

The University of Maine’s New Media Department has approved new promotion and tenure guidelines that take into account social media, so professors get some credit for a widely read blog, contributions to popular or professional wikis, and so forth.

A “rationale,” “New Criteria for New Media” was written for the peer-reviewed journal Leonardo (but you can be sure 99% of people will read the link just cited). As David Weinberger writes:

“This the right thing to do not only because it is a more realistic assessment of an academic’s worth. It’s also the right thing to do because it helps to build the value of the network. If knowledge and expertise are becoming properties of the network, it is the social responsibility of our institutions to encourage the enhancement of that network.”

As a Mainer, I take special pride in this. I only wish the New Media Department, at Orono, outside of Bandor, were closer to Portland.

*Dirigo, I lead, is the state motto. Maine has a lot of pithy mottoes. Portland, ravaged by fire four times, has the doughty Resurgam, “I’m gonna get up again!”

Labels: academics, maine

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

An academic take on LibraryThing tags

I just discovered Tiffany Smith’s “Cataloging and You: Measuring the Efficacy of a Folksonomy for Subject Analysis“.* It’s the first detailed academic study of LibraryThing tagging—and a very sympathetic one.

The article focus on five books, comparing their tags with their Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). The books are Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and John Hodgman’s The Areas of My Expertise.

LibraryThing doesn’t “win” every comparison, but it comes out pretty well. I’ve already coopted her observations on two titles into my talks, namely Persepolis and Areas of my Expertise, both of which rate a single, very general subject. On the latter:

“How do you identify the subject of a fictionalized almanac, which, according to the Library Journal blurb on the back cover, is ‘a handy desk reference for those needing a dose of nonsense’? If you’re the Library of Congress, you call it ‘American wit and humor’, and move on to the next item on your book cart. You’d be accurate, because Hodgman is American and the book is witty and humorous, but you wouldn’t have captured the specificity of this item.”

Smith contrasts this with the LibraryThing’s florid tag cloud, sporting such terms as almanac, hoboes, alchemy, cheese, cryptozoology, eels, omens, portents and absurdities. Record-by-record these tags may only serve to amuse, but if you can’t recall the title, Hodgman’s strange work can be easily retrieved by looking for books tagged both “eels” and “humor” or “hoboes” and “almanac”. By contrast, I would not recommend wading through the American Wit and Humor subject!

I was also gratified to see the author notice an effect I’ve mentioned periodically but which has found no echo in other examinations of the topic and in the whole tired expert-vs-amateur polemic. As she writes, LibraryThing members pick up on the Napoleonic Wars element in Jonathan Strange, which LCSH misses:

“This may speak to the problem of the physical impossibility of the library cataloger reading the entirety of this roughly 800 page book to get to all of the detail. The Napoleonic element is not evident for the first third of the book and is not represented in the chapter titles, although it plays a pivotal role in the plot development.”

Fundamentally, I’m willing to concede the virtues of expertise, but there’s a lot to be said for reading the book all the way through, and library catalogers are not often able to do that.

In this connection, I’ve previously noted how my wife’s third novel, Love in the Asylum, acquired an erroneous “Alcoholism” subject, derived ultimately from bad publisher flap copy. Clearly neither the librarian nor the publicist had read the book. (My wife caught the copy before it went to print, but not before it had acquired Cataloging in Print LCSHs.) And the LCSH team also missed the topic of American Indians (Abenakis), a major presence in the book, but not touched on in the first 1/3 or the flap copy.

Anyway, it’s an interesting read. Since Smith did her research LibraryThing has grown almost 100%, and there are few things I’d quibble with*, but it’s a very good outside examination of why LibraryThing member’s tags should be dismissed by librarians interested in cataloging quality.

*”in”—as they say in academia—Lussky, Joan, Eds. Proceedings 18th Workshop of the American Society for Information Science and Technology Special Interest Group in Classification Research, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
**For example, Smith was confused why some LibraryThing works had subjects that were not present in the Library of Congress record, which she believes is our source. In fact, we get our Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) from many librares. Libraries are free to augement the LC’s headings, and many do; we pick up anything in the 600s of all the MARC records that make up a work.

Labels: academics, LCSH, LIS, tagging, tags