A brain exploding from information overload and vanity license plates are the images which come into mind when I think about social bookmarking and tagging. To me, some form of bookmarking is a necessary part of modern life to organize the huge volume of information we encounter, want, and need in both our personal and professional lives; for example, a Pinterest board could help keep track of dream vacation destinations while Zotero allows researchers to amass potential references for working and future papers. On the other hand, I have always viewed hashtags as non-essential and even frivolous, something where people try to get too cute such as on Twitter with #humblebrag or #questionsidontlike.
However, I admit that I was considering bookmarking and tagging subjectively rather than objectively, and I now understand that they can be extremely valuable because they provide a quick, simple, and succinct means of discoverability and indexing for websites, blogs, or social media. In fact, they parallel other forms of library-specific metadata, such as Library of Congress form subdivisions in the OPAC like World War, 1914-1918—Women—United States. Bookmarking and tagging are great techniques for academic librarians to add to their professional toolkit because they can stimulate engagement with students and offer professional networking opportunities. Plus many bookmarking and tagging sites – including Reddit, Zotero, CiteULike, and Goodreads – are free to join and use, offering a no-cost option for enhancing collections and services in an era of shrinking academic library budgets. Win-win!
Using Reddit, for instance, an academic librarian could create a subreddit thread to organize and disseminate information to a particular course, such as adding links about current world events from the Economist or the BBC for a geopolitics class. Also, Instagram could be used during campus welcome week through a series of pictures intended to familiarize incoming students with the library building (such as what is housed on different floors) and engaging upper-level students with a fun activity by asking them to share photos of themselves at their favorite study spot in the library. As far as professional use, academic librarians can search a hashtag on Twitter, namely #librarianproblems, to find how other librarians or libraries have addressed a particular issue as well as to alleviate stress by watching entertaining memes posted by colleagues addressing day-to-day problems. More seriously, I have recently seen Twitter hashtags used to great effect during library conferences when an idea emerges from sessions, such as a session on the ACRL Framework and how to plan library instruction incorporating one of the frames. The hashtags keep the conversation going after the conference and connect librarians from across the state or the country with fellow educators striving to teach critical thinking to their students.
I think bookmarking and tagging’s best purpose is their potential to supplement academic libraries’ physical and digital collections with online resources, which is more user-oriented to the current generation of students. Bookmarking and tagging also offer the possibility for more collaborative and interactive content-building by students themselves, so that perhaps an instructional librarian could work with an education professor and his/her elementary education language arts class to create a Goodreads group of diverse books for children. However, I am most excited that social tagging can demonstrate information literacy! Not only do undergraduates need to know the difference between credible and non-authoritative websites, but understanding the context surrounding online information is a skill necessary to lifelong learning. Therefore, for nursing students, I might make a LibGuide of government and non-partisan websites, including the US Department of Health & Human Services, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and NPR, which provide credible information about the current ACA (aka “Obamacare”) debate. During a library instructional session, I could then ask and discuss with those nursing students why they should turn to these resources for their present assignments and in their future careers versus the major cable news outlets or opinions from Facebook.
Finally, as a distance education student myself, I wish I had thought about the option to collaborate and share information with classmates via social tagging sooner. It would have been very helpful in several of my past classes to have created a hashtag for bookmarking sources for our class discussions and/or group projects. Rather than emailing links back and forth to each other, we would have had a centralized location to post links, tagging them as #LS531 for example. It would have greatly streamlined the research process!
Although I wholeheartedly approve of using social bookmarking and tagging in academic libraries, I have two concerns about their successful implementation in this environment. First, academic librarians are going to need a significant amount of time to identify the best site or application for tagging and to build collections of credible, subject-specific resources and tag them while also continuing with their regular job duties. Second, webpages and hyperlinks are transitory, so librarians should expect to periodically check bookmarked resources to see if they are still viable hyperlinks. Some academic librarians may discover time is not on their side when it comes to social bookmarking and tagging.
Images from: https://www.executiveforums.com/single-post/2017/03/03/Information-Overload-What-is-it-doing-to-your-employees http://designturnpike.com/funny_vanity_license_plates.html