social cataloging is not an oxymoron

For those of you not in the library game, you may be surprised to find that there is a bit of a social hierarchy/divide amongst librarians.   It’s not quite to the level of Sharks/Jets or Crips/Bloods, but it is there.   I speak, of course, of the Technical Services/Public Services divide.

I am firmly in the Public Services camp.  That’s not to say that I dislike my Technical Services brethren.  Quite the contrary. Some of my nearest and dearest friends are Technical Services librarians.  And I most certainly couldn’t do my job without someone “working in the back” getting the materials where they need to be.  I’m simply saying that I would rather shoot myself in the face than catalog books all day.

That being said, it is with an equal mix of confusion and bemusement that I have watched the success of book sharing sites like LibraryThing, GoodReads and Shelfari.  I mean, people spending their free time essentially doing something that you couldn’t pay me enough money to do…what is up with that?

Of course, these sites aren’t all just about cataloging one’s book collection.  Through them one can get book recommendations, see what one’s “friends” are reading, make new friends over a shared love a book, etc., etc.   I started thinking about this today because I just discovered a recent addition to LibraryThing – Common Knowledge.  Basically, this adds a wiki element to LibraryThing that allows all LibraryThing users to collaborate on a page that fills in fields for each book.

I know some universities are experimenting with allowing folksonomy elements to their OPAC, most notably North Carolina State University and it’s Endeca-enhanced catalog.  My own institution is experimenting with Encore.  I don’t think it’s the worst idea in the world to allow university library patrons to enhance the library catalog.  Sure, there’s going to be some problems with vandalism and just plain misinformation, but I can see where some students would provide helpful information such as tagging a particular book for a particular class.  There was a suggestion made that librarians and teaching faculty could go in and do something like this as well, but then one wonders why that couldn’t be done at the time of record entry by Tech Services.

At any rate, I just don’t think that there’s going to be much use for a service like this on the law school level.  My patrons don’t use our print collection and catalog the same way that undergrads or even other graduate students do.  Whether or not they even bother to use the print collection and catalog anymore is another train of thought entirely.


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