I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to read Clay Shirky’s 2005 article, Ontology Is Overrated: categories, links and tags. The two concepts of classification and tagging were clearly defined and developed in his writing and through well chosen illustrative examples. The user advantages of tagging for information finding presented in Clay Shirky’s article provided compelling reasons for the adoption of tagging in library catalogues. He offered a noteworthy outline that suggested when an ontological classification scheme works and doesn’t work, demonstrating the need for both tagging and classification in libraries. It is encouraging to see the examples of library catalogues currently using both tagging and traditional classification schemes. My public library service experience concurs with Clay Shirky’s assertion: “… the frailty of human memory and the physical fact of books make some sort of organizational scheme a requirement, and hierarchy is a good way to manage physical objects.” In fact the Dewey Decimal System used in my public library is functional in that each book has a physical place and is in a logical arrangement. This physical and classified arrangement is important, providing patrons with a collection that can be browsed. From my experience in the public library, the classification and arrangement of the Dewey Decimal System continues to function as an important information seeking tool and discovery strategy for many patrons who physically brows the shelves of the library. However, in my library service experience I have also assisted users confounded by the traditional library categorization scheme. One very well educated patron came to the desk exasperated while searching an online university database by subject. She was unable to find the subject terminology to unlock the vast body of knowledge in the collection to satisfy her query. This intelligent woman was completely frustrated by the limitations of the classification scheme. In this case, the inclusion of less limiting user generated tags would have improved the likelihood of finding the information she sought. As Clay Shirky explained, tagging offers a multiplicity of points of view and this single fact alone improves information retrieval from the user’s perspective “…the question isn’t “Is everyone tagging any given link ‘correctly'”, but rather “Is anyone tagging it the way I do?” As long as at least one other person tags something they way you would, you’ll find it.” (2005). The value of tagging in developing and delivering a multiplicity of view points for retrieval of information is significant and ought to be included in library catalogues.
Shirky, C. (2005). Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags . In Clay Shirky’s Writings About the Internet. Retrieved March 17, 2013, from http://www.shirky.com/writings/ontology_overrated.html