Library Issues

When is a tag not a tag?

Just catching up with my library news after my vacation last week, and discovered a couple of interesting blog posts that I wanted to comment on. I originally saw this from Jessamyn, but it originated with Jenny and was then picked up by Davey P’s weblog: a new opac interface that for some reason everyone is calling a “tag cloud.” Which, as far as I can tell, is wrong. This is a subject cloud, yes, but to me tagging is all about the folksonomic, the “consumer as creator” concept. The sort of thing I posted way back when….this is a clever way of viewing the frequencies of subject headings, but it’s not tagging and not a folksonomy.

I’d love to see an OPAC that allowed actual tagging to be done. I think it would tell us enormous amounts about our users, and would generate lots of ways that people use our catalog/view our resources that we could never have guessed.

Anyone want to try to whip that up as an add-on to their catalog? User-directed free form tagging, possibly even tied to accounts so that people can generate queries of the books they read…that’s what I want to see.

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

6 replies on “When is a tag not a tag?”

good point. I think we mix our metaphors way too readily. I like this example because it shows this rough and ready “aboutness” sense of the catalog and if it were using tags, it would be telling us about our patrons as well. In any case, it’s a cloud of some provenance that is taking tag metaphors and stretching them in areas no tag has gone before. Woo!

You’re 100% right Jason – mine was really an attempt to build a cloud from available data.

I’d love to implement Jessamyn’s suggestion, but I doubt the more “senior” librarians here would allow it. My guess is that it would only take me a couple of hours to add that functionality to our PAC, but (at the moment) it would be too much of a radical step for some (perhaps many) of the staff to accept.

Seriously? You could add tagging capabilities to your OPAC in a couple of hours?


I’m lucky I understand anything about ours, as convoluted as it is. 🙂

That said…I still think it’s an experiment that needs to be done. I’ve blogged a couple of times about the potentially interesting things we can find out when we start tagging objects in the real world. Love to see it happen, even if I’m not technically competent enough to make it go.

Jason – firstly quick apologies as I’d misread and thought it was Jessamyn who’d wanted to see a OPAC that allowed tags …now I’ve said that, I suspect that she does too 🙂

Having worked with both public and academic UK libraries, I suspect a public library would be in a better position to run with this very worthwhile experiment.

Ever since I started working with libraries (back in 1996) I’ve always felt that “audience participation” is the key to getting people to really engage with the OPAC, and it depresses me to see how many of our students will simply walk away from our catalogue PCs if they don’t find what they want via a general keyword search. We need things that make our OPACs more “sticky”!

Well – a couple of hours with some good strong coffee for a decent working prototype, if nothing else! Maybe one of these days I will 🙂

Have fun!

Hi Jason

I wasn’t far off – I managed to get the basics working on our test OPAC in about 3 hours, although there’s still more work to do in terms of integrating it properly.

I was keen to see if the tags would dovetail with the existing subject headings, and there does seem to be a good correlation going on.

Even though less than 300 items have been tagged, there are some useful tag clouds being produced – e.g. apache.

In the new year, I’ll try and argue the case for having tags on the live OPAC. In the meantime, John at Ann Arbor is busy working on adding tagging to their OPAC.


[…] Pattern Recognition Blog Archive When is a tag not a tag Posted by root 12 minutes ago ( I was keen to see if the tags would dovetail with the existing subject headings comment guidelines hyperlinks are automatically generated tweet this post links powered by tweet this v1 3 9 a wordpress plugin for twitter Discuss  |  Bury |  News | Pattern Recognition Blog Archive When is a tag not a tag […]

Leave a Reply to jessamyn Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *