Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bibliotheek Haarlem Tagging

Harlem Oost, a branch library in the Netherlands, set up a program that would allow library patrons to 'tag' their books. Like the labels on this blog, only more as descriptors like 'good family reading' and 'funny'. Certainly an intriguing idea, but apparently it didn't work.

While I think it's admirable, I'm not very surprised it didn't work. I kind of wish it did, but I also think physically organizing books by tags isn't such a hot idea. It works well online in blogs, but not so much in real life, which has to contend with shelf space and accessibility.

The reason there are library classification systems like Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal is so people can find books. This seems like a basic concept. By grouping them by subject, it makes it easier for people to find what they need and browse subjects that interest them.

This library project is proposing a new classification system that changes. While books can still be grouped according to previous classification systems within the new system, the major groups - 'funny', 'family reading' - change the very basic locations of the books.

The benefit of having a classification system like Dewey Decimal Classification or Library of Congress is that the categories are mostly static. While the debate as to which subcategory a work falls under remains, it is at least decided upon, noted, and then kept, thus narrowing the physical placement of the book.

The use of RFIDs makes the tagging process easier. It's certainly helpful information about a community's interests and needs, yes. While tags showing up in online catalogs makes sense, changing the physical shelving does not.

A comment from Jack Kirby on the second article linked sums up my misgivings about the project:

As somebody who recently had to search through a whole host of 'special choice' displays to find the book I needed to read for my book group (the staff knew it was in there, just not where), I can attest that there is a downside to departing from normal library behaviour!

Great idea, it just doesn't work so well in a physical world.


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