So now I come all the way across the country to the west coast and I focus in upon the Vancouver Public Library. I have been in the central branch of the VPL and looked at the website but unfortunately living on campus at UBC I do not qualify for a VPL card. That is sad as it seems like a very dynamic and interesting library. Just from my investigations of the website I can see many ways the VPL is adopting Web 2.0 tools to enhance their service to users.
I did some quick searches on the VPL catalog and found that the new catalog system has incorporated many ways for users to interact with the catalog. There is more than just the ability for users to tag records with new subjects. There is a whole section called community activity including a 5 star rating, an area for comments, as well as areas for age appropriate suggestions, summaries, notices, quotes and videos. As in the HLP catalog there is the quick links to social bookmarking and social networking sites so you can share your selection with your friends and others.
New VPL Library Catalog by BCIT News.
The tagging system seems similar to the HPL tagging system. On the record there is a section labeled tags with a list of the added tags then a link to add tags yourself. You have to log in with you library account in order to add anything to the record. There don’t seem to be as many tags as in the HPL catalog system. This may be because the VLP hasn’t had the tag system for as long as the HPL but I also think that it is entirely up to the users to add the tags whereas I think staff may have had a hand in tagging some of the HLP records. The lack of tags is a drawback but one that is necessary in a new system, and one that will be remedied with time. For an example of the usefulness of tags I looked at a record of a novel Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett. I was surprised to see the library had a subject heading for discworld (imaginary place) – fiction and soccer matches – fiction, so tags for those two things were not necessary but there was a tag “fitting in.” This may not be the best phrasing but reading this tag I understand that part of this novel is a story about someone trying to fit in, or maybe even a group trying to fit in. I think this is useful information and something you would only get from having read the novel, as this part of the story isn’t described on the back of the book.
Ratings. A five star rating system gives users a very quick way to review the material content. 1-5 stars out of 5. But if you feel that just giving the material a rating is not enough you can also include a comment. Comments can be a simple statement to a full review of the material. IT is like an Amazon listing except perhaps more honest because the library is not trying to sell you something and comments are not ranked, they are listed in date of posting, newest comment at the top. Comments can be great to help a user decide whether a material is actually what they want.
The lists function is another way for users to share materials. Users can create lists and publicize them for other users to search and browse. I could create a list called “Best Books for Procrastinating” or “Good Books for Relocating” and another user can use the library catalog to search for lists about relocating or procrastinating and find my list. Then they can read what I think about the books and if they are interested open up the record and find the book. This is a form of social bookmarking without the external site. Instead of clicking a button to create a link to the record on Delicious, I can click a button to add it to a list that I can recommend to all my friends and other library users too. And because it is part of the library website it is easier for a library users to find and make the connection between recommendations and the library catalog.
Sarah Houghton-Jan in her blog Librarian in Black (April 7, 2008) wrote about a seminar she attended where they discussed the use of user generated content in the catalog. Generally it was agreed that user generated content adds to a catalog and adds value for the user. More content is better than better algorithms. The other main point that came out is that user generated content is not neat and tidy. There is a lot of duplication in tags with synonyms, different spellings, plurals and singulars, etc. The catalog will get messy, but if it means the library is providing better, more valuable services, then it is a good thing. Also there are ways to reduce the clutter like aggregating tag concepts so if you search tags for ghosts, you also get the tags ghost, specters, and phantoms. I like tags and other forms of user generated content and I agree that they are good and that they are here to stay. As an information professional in the making I want to go out and find ways to make the best of user generated content, to make it as useful as it can be!