At the end of his recent What is Social Cataloging presentation at LIANZA, Tim Spalding of LibraryThing assures us that social cataloging will not result in end of the world scenarios such as teenagers in their underwear cataloging our books, dead kittens, or the end of traditional cataloging. Tim has posted Just the LIS/ranting/inspiration parts! on Vimeo, and it is definitely worth a listen.
I think the idea that social cataloging means “the end of intellectual structures rooted in the limitations of the physical world” is a very important concept. Tim may be overestimating the power of social cataloging to topple the physical paradigm that has ruled libraries for so long, but I do agree that it is time (past time, probably) for a paradigm shift. Social cataloging will hopefully hasten the shift.
Despite sharing some of Tim’s “doom-iness” about the future of libraries, I am encouraged by the fact that many libraries, including my own, are already doing things like exposing their catalog records to Google and other search engines, and allowing linking and bookmarking of catalog records.
Stanford’s new discovery environment SearchWorks does both these things. SearchWorks is based on Blacklight, an open-source application that was originally written at University of Virginia. VuFind is another open source tool, developed at Villanova University, being used by a number of libraries to leverage Web 2.0 in a library discovery environment. I don’t know much about PennTags, but it is an example of a major university library experimenting with social tagging of library materials.
Tim is absolutely right that libraries must recognize the limits of practices rooted in a physical books paradigm and move beyond them. I’m encouraged to see that many leading libraries are already well on the way towards embracing new social tools and new ways of thinking about organizing information. A part of me reacts to Tim’s presentation with “Doesn’t he realize all the cool Web 2.0 stuff libraries are already doing?”; but a bigger part of me welcomes “rants” from library outsiders like Tim Spalding that keep pushing us in the right directions.