Smith, “Cataloging and You”

Smith, Tiffany L. “Cataloging and You: Measuring the Efficacy of a Folksonomy for Subject Analysis.” Ed. Joan Lussky. Proceedings 18th Workshop of the American Society for Information Science and Technology Special Interest Group in Classification Research, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 2007.

Smith establishes a basis for comparison between the user-generated folksonomies developed in association with Library Thing and the Library of Congress Subject Headings for the same works. Her central research question attempts to reconcile each of the systems with matters of “efficacy and accuracy.” In these terms, both folksonomies and the LCSH system have their limitations: folksonomies area hampered by variability (no shared vocabulary is imposed where folksonomies flourish); on the other hand, the LCSH is challenged by “currency, exclusions, and latencies” (para. 6). Smith explains each of these limitations in a fair amount of detail (paras. 7-10). She notes that the LCSH system is slow to adapt (might its inertia be its purported strength?), and yet, the flexible vocabularies we find in folksonomic classification tends to introduce redundancy that might mischaracterize and, therefore, mislead.

Smith also accounts for the problem of inflexible categorization schemes and latency. Controlled vocabularies cannot adapt to that which has never been done before. Another limitation for the LCSH is what she calls “pre-coordinate indexing” (a synonym, I assume, for the preformed taxonomy):

Pre-coordinate indexing forces the cataloger to prognosticate in relation to what future users will find of value in the information entity. There will necessarily be some aspects of every text that the cataloger does not include. The problem, of course, is that these areas constitute latencies of the book’s subject that may compromise retrieval of information. This is further exacerbated by the issue of catalogers’ quotas and a contributing issue: we don’t get to read the entirety of most of the books that we catalog. (para. 11)

The point about not reading and cataloging or partially reading and cataloging introduces an intriguing twist here: What sort of knowledge is involved in the act of classification in either system? How greatly does this knowledge differ? And is it the varying thickness of this knowledge (re: thin slicing) what unsettles skeptics of folksonomic classification systems (as popular, participatory method)?

Within this long-ish quotation, I am also interested in the notion of a system that tends to stagnate because it cannot anticipate the scholars of the future. Derrida gets at this in Archive Fever, and it would be interesting to look at this tension against Carolyn Steedman’s treatment (rebuttal, of sorts) of AF in Dust. How does Dust deal with classification or position the “breath it in” archivist as one whose indexical acts carry forward (draped in ethics, anticipation, and so on)?

Back to the article: Smith identifies her comparative approach as “exploratory” and “crude,” and although I have a different interest in tagging practices than hers (efficacy and accuracy), I regard this as a solid overview, one well-grounded in a promising lit review (see below) that makes sense of the relationship between taxonomy and folksonomy relative to a smart Web 2.0 application in Library Thing. Smith’s methods are visible on a different scale in the second half of the essay, where she works through the comparisons of five books according to how they are labeled in each of the systems.

Smith’s lit review is one of the strong points of this piece. Here are a few items from the works cited that stand out to me, and that I will track down when I return to questions of tagging practices (how best to describe them, differentiate them, teach others about them, etc.) in revisions of Chapter Three:

Bowker, Geoffrey C., and Susan Leigh Star. Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.

Guy, Marieke, and Emma Tonkin. “Folksonomies: Tidying Up Tags?” D-Lib Magazine 1 (2005), 24 Apr. 2007 <>.

Hammond, Tony. “Social Bookmarking Tools (I): a General Review.” D-Lib Magazine 11 (2005). 24 Jan. 2007 .

O’Connor, Brian C. Explorations in Indexing and Abstracting: Pointing, Virtue, and Power. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, 1996.

Svenonius, Elaine. The Intellectual Foundation of Information Organization. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.