Image from Epic Win.

I have a little game I play that I call “Ask the Facebook Oracle.” I play this game when I am undecided on some non-life-threatening issue. For example, I’ll post, “What should I have for dinner?” as my Facebook status. A few of the people that see this status are most likely to be ones that I’ve shared a meal with and may be familiar with what I like and not like, and may make some great suggestions. There’s always a comedian, naming foods that I’m allergic to or don’t like (thanks, mom), but in general, it’s proved to be a pretty fun and low-effort way to make (or narrow down) decisions.

This week: What do you think of the move away from the wisdom of the expert and towards the wisdom of crowds? What are the pros and cons of tagging in library catalogs? Why do you think so few libraries are allowing patrons to add to library wikis?

No single person can think of everything nor know everything. I certainly can’t. I think the move away from the wisdom of the expert towards the wisdom of crowds can be beneficial for all parties when implemented in certain ways. I’ll still depend on experts for certain things such as medical or legal advice, of course, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go with the wisdom of experts in all subjects. We just need to be thoughtful about when and how we employ the wisdom of crowds. It works great for things like the Penny Jar Example (third paragraph down) and not so great when it comes to ethics and morals (see: Nazi Germany).

I think the pros vastly outweigh the cons of tagging in library catalogs. It’s highly unlikely that the majority of library users are going to be familiar with the controlled vocabulary used in cataloging items. Allowing tags, especially user-generated tags, is going to make things more findable for more people and really, that’s what we’re going for. Yes, it will take some human-power and precautionary measures against trolls and spammers for user-generated tagging to not turn into a circus, but I think it’s worth it.

I speculate that few libraries allow patrons to edit library wikis for different reasons. It takes human-power (which many libraries don’t have to spare) to ensure against malicious content. Only allowing staff to edit the wikis is a way to circumvent such occurrences. I also think that, with some librarians, there’s a bit of fear and a bit of selfishness going on. Fear of a lack of recognition, fear of loss of ownership, fear of being one-upped. I know it’s an elephant in the room, but sometimes the humanness and personalities of people gets in the way of their effectiveness. I’m not saying that this is happening in all libraries, I’m just saying that it seems possible.