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Tagging Museum Collections

by David Sturtz

The September issue of D-Lib (Digital Libraries) Magazine features an article with the hefty title Social Terminology Enhancement through Vernacular Engagement: Exploring Collaborative Annotation to Encourage Interaction with Museum Collections.

Essentially, a group of museum and digital library people are trying to find new ways for users to interact with digital collections of art and artifacts using folksonomies. They have developed Steve, a prototype system to support cataloging of images using tags.

Their work raises (and captures) a lot of questions about how to build a tagging interface, how to get users involved, and what to do with the results.

Our goal is to stimulate a long-term, distributed, research programme in the museum community on the use of folksonomic methods to augment museum documentation and generate a sense of involvement with cultural collections. We need to deploy our front-end tool with a highly flexible interface and good logging functions in order to examine empirically what users will do when faced with different interface elements and feature options, and study how their choices will affect term collecting. With this research instrument, we will examine characteristics of front ends that motivate users to participate, guide them to contribute the maximum quantity and quality of terms per image, and reward them for doing so.

Results from testing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art also consider the possibility of using facets to tag various aspects of images such as topic, place, symbolism, and emotions (Metropolitan Museum of Art: Image Cataloguing Test. December 7, 2004 [PDF] and MMA Subject Cataloguing Trials [PDF]). As I’ve mentioned previously, I think this is a great strategy and will result in more thorough indexing and interesting possibilities for using the gathered tags.

I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of this.

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