Social cataloguing

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Social cataloguing allows users to contribute comments, opinions and "descriptive tags" about library collection(s)
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See also Diigo | LibraryThing | LibGuides from Springshare | Social media aggregators | Social media landscape | Social tagging | Tag clouds in the OPAC: a starting point cataloguing allow(s) members to not only share publicly their cataloged inventories, but to post reviews and commentaries on the items posted, create and participate in discussion groups, and tag or classify the items cataloged. In other words, these sites serve as a user-designed, interactive, and shared catalog. — Spiteri, 2009

Social cataloguing refers to a kind of social networking site where crowdsourced content, commentaries about books and reviews of reading materials found in library collections are shared. In the 2005-2010 period, a number of web-based applications were created to help users describe, tag and track their favourite authors, books and reading materials in their own e-inventory and e-filing systems (i.e., home, office). Subsequently social cataloguing content has been used to aid in library discovery systems (Spiteri, 2012). Simply put social cataloguing sites make it possible to discuss books and review them while being social online. Similar to sites such as delicious and Slideshare, social cataloguing sites facilitate "social discovery" and searching by including hyperlinked tags (or user-determined descriptors), rating systems and comment features.

Social cataloguing allows anyone to embrace their natural tendencies to document something as they organize and track books in their collection. The sites may be useful for collections librarians as many provide book summaries and reviews which can be used to assist in purchasing decisions. Social cataloguing websites can be a useful reader advisory tool to connect users with recommended books by genre. Creating opportunities for your online catalogue to be an interactive tool positions it as a space for two-way traffic where patrons and librarians can contribute content. In theory, this is an extension of Ranganathan’s second law that "...every reader his [or her] book..." and a form of expressive bibliography. Tarulli (2012), in The library catalogue as social space makes the point that online catalogues are directly implicated in promoting patron-driven collections, online communities pertaining to the library and other forms of interaction with users. (See also Chambers' Catalogue 2.0.)

Attributes and features

Several attributes of social cataloguing sites are worth mentioning for librarians:

  • The ability to share book titles, reviews and comments (like a bookclub) with readers from around the world
  • Linked social features and bibliographic records as a way to build user communities, and interest in library collections
  • Social cataloguing sites are of interest because they are rich stores of information, ideas and metadata

For librarians looking to encourage participation in their communities, social cataloguing may be a useful way to do some creative digital outreach while engaging within a worldwide network. There is some debate, however, about the value of adding social cataloguing features to traditional catalogues and bibliographic records. Some suggest that SCSs can enhance the library catalogue by encouraging end-users to tag (and browse) items even though some express concern that user-generated content may lead users astray.

Taking a broader view, user-applied tags and tag clouds may provide fringe benefits beyond being social with other readers and the phenomenon of serendipitous discovery of books. One idea worth thinking about is the notion that tags form a semantic bridge between natural language terms and controlled vocabularies, thereby enhancing the information literacy skills of participants. Cho and Giustini suggest that tagging features may be a key in building the semantic web and turning the web into a massive searchable online catalogue.

Social cataloguing websites

The range and number of SCSs is increasing all the time. However, we would like to present a list of the most popular tools initially for exploration:

Notable SCSs

  • aNobii (See review)
    • share titles, recommendations and reviews. Build a virtual bookshelf by entering ISBN or book title, import lists from LibraryThing, Amazon, Excel spreadsheets. ~400,000 members, available in 16 languages with data for ~12 million books; even an iPhone app.
  • Elf
    • ideal for readers with many library cards many different libraries. Users can consolidate accounts. Email is sent as items become due or when holds are ready for pickup.
  • GoodReads (See review)
    • Established in 2006, GoodReads now has over 2 million users and 50 million items listed. There is a facebook widget; no fees.
  • Google Books MyLibrary -
  • LibraryThing (See review) (And: LibraryThing blog and LT for Libraries).
    • users are thingamabrarians and post reading lists, book reviews and chat to other users. You can use the Dewey Decimal Classification System or the Library of Congress system to list your books; privately or publicly. 850,000 users and ~44 million books catalogued.
  • Shelfari (See review)
    • create virtual bookshelves of titles and rate, review, tag and discuss books; also utilises the Dewey Decimal system. acquired it in 2008. (Official Shelfari blog).

Growing in popularity

Feel free to add any new or emerging social cataloguing sites that have not been listed below:


SCSs have been evaluated by librarians and the following are some of the most-commonly mentioned problems:

  • No standardization: the openness of social cataloguing creates problems during information retrieval due to variant spellings of tags as well as semantic and linguistic ambiguity (imprecision).
  • No hierarchies: tags are created in isolation and illustrate no inter-relationships between terms. In controlled vocabularies, a "Dog" could be a "Hound" or a "Basset Hound". These terms should be linked in descending order so users can co-locate resources. In tagging, tags lies "flat" in the folksonomy; users create and or apply broader or narrower tags to achieve the same hierarchical structure.
  • Use of plural and singular forms: does the vocabulary use "Dog" or "Dogs"? In a tagging system, you will have to search plurals and singular forms.
  • Unorthodox terms and spelling: freedom of language introduces inconsistent usage, new "languages" and spelling thereby complicating subject cataloguing and co-location of similar items.
  • Synonyms: two terms that express the same concept. Controlled vocabularies have "authority files" which dictate a preferred way of expressing concepts, such as "TV" or "Television." In folksonomic environments, there is no such control over synonomous terms.
  • Polysemy: conceptual ambiguity around a term. A "window", for example, could refer to an opening in a wall, or something broader like the "window of opportunity". Without conceptual control, terms can produce all kinds of problems during retrieval.
  • Malicious intent: user opinions are likely to invade a folksonomy if there are strong feelings involved with subjects. Tags can be moderated for particularly harmful content, but that takes valuable time and human resources.

OPAC 2.0 - Next Generation Catalogue?

In 2006, during a period of fervent interest in the Library 2.0 concept, there was some debate about embedding social features in OPACs. Pockets of innovation began to appear but broader adoption of principles have been slow to come. Studies comparing "social" tag-based folksonomies with standard subject indexing in OPACs raise several issues of concern but do not provide sufficient direction to librarians. Some librarians say that folksonomies are unable to replace the profession's well-established controlled vocabularies. Others believe that tagging may help to change attitudes toward library OPACs thereby making them (according to LibraryThing founder Tim Spalding) "more fun."

The impulse to improve library catalogues has also led to Scriblio (formerly WPopac) which operates on the blogging platform. The open source OPAC is capable of managing web content as well as traditional materials. A similar project that permits tagging, rating and reviewing is SOPAC - the social OPAC - which has installations in at least three public libraries.

One product that has stirred interest in aggregating content for libraries is LibGuides which can be used to create customizable resource guides along disciplinary lines. These dynamic guides integrate web 2.0 tools to "distribute library content and services beyond the library website, and connect with patrons wherever they are." Although not meant to disseminate catalogue content exclusively, they are unique in their combination of folksonomic freedom at the local level and linking to web content at the global level. (For a list of libraries using libguides, see here.)

In 2009, the idea of a new generation OPAC is catching on in Canada. Look at the Edmonton Public Library catalogue and the "Primo" version of UBC Library's catalogue. In the United States, PennTags at the UPenn Library is an interesting project which allows users to markup records with tags.


As the volume of born-digital materials increases on the web, there is a need to find better ways to create metadata for knowledge objects (i.e. books, audiovisual materials and web media). Sites such as LibraryThing and WorldCat exemplify how the principles of web 2.0 (i.e. tagging, rating systems and making comments) can successfully be applied to library catalogues without compromising data integrity. The future of automated metadata extraction from library databases should include culling data from social media sites such as SCSs. Even though SCSs have been around for some time they are now gaining interest and even acceptance from librarians and other information professionals.

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