Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Taking it to the Masses

So, you hear an awful lot about folksonomy and how it could be revolutionary.  But what does this mean?  Well, folksonomy is the act of the general public tagging items with keywords.  It is in a sense a form of cataloging done by the average person.  Tags can be anything.  People can tag items with useful words, or not-so-useful words.  For example, a person may tag Slaughter-house five with "aliens" or "human zoo" which are two fairly useful keywords because these words could apply to other texts as well.  However, it might also be tagged with "so it goes" which is a phrase unique to this text.  People also use tags on blog sites to keep track of ideas presented by bloggers.  Occasionally tags are used even for humorous effect.  An article written today about the new Boeing 787 plane having its first flight was tagged with "aboutdamntime" because the flight had been delayed many times.  Now, this tag is most likely not very useful, but it adds humor.  Sometimes tagging is about the interaction between the patrons and the data.  Folksonomy is social, and creates a stronger connection between the public and a database or catalog/OPAC.  One could even subscribe to a tag.  Say you are a big fan of alien literature.  You could subscribe to an RSS of all books that are tagged with "alien" or "flying saucer" and each time something is tagged with those words you are automatically informed about it through your RSS reader. 

Are libraries really using Folksonomy?  Well, there is a product called Library Thing for Libraries which offers this ability along with a connection to many thousands of book reviews from real patron for almost any library.  Simply add this service to your already existing OPAC and you have social tagging as well as access to all of those reviews (Your own patrons can add reviews as well and people in other libraries using the service will see their review).  This is a really cool service, but there is a problem with my library adapting this technology.

I just can't do it.  I want to.  I just can't.  The problem is with our OPAC.  I, along with many schools use Follett's Destiny.  This allows for a really streamlined experience with ordering books, processing, and our catalog.  We order mostly from Follett, so our records are automatically updated so there is less work on our part.  Also, the software is maintained and updated regularly by the Follett company.  It's really nice software, except that it is a very closed platform.  What is a closed platform?  It means that the databse and software is not set up to allow third party additions to the OPAC.  There are big movements in libraries using open-source OPAC software so that anybody can develop add-ons and whatnot for the OPAC, but that generally means having some very tech savvy librarians employed that can maintain an OPAC on their own.  Since Destiny is a closed platform I am unable to add all of these new cool programs being developed. 

At times I wonder if the convenience offered by Follett is worth the inability to make any changes to the OPAC.  If I want a new feature in the OPAC I write the company and just hope beyond hope that they take my suggestions seriously.  Right now I am trying to convince them to add browser recognition to the OPAC site and a mobile version, so that if someonbe visits our site from an iPhone, iPod touch, or other smart phone that they will be able to see a specially formatted site made for those smaller screens.  Until I start a new library from scratch, I guess I will be sticking with Follet and just keeping my fingers crossed.


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