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Folksonomies, also called social tags, are an experiment to help develop a semantic web."The term folksonomy was first coined by T. Vander Wal to describe the taxonomy-like structures that emerge when large communities of users collectively tag resources. These folk taxonomies reflect a communal view of the attributes associated to items, essentially supplying a bottom-up categorisation of resources. Since individuals from different communities utilise different tags, often reflecting their degree of knowledge in the domain, folksonomies can support highly personalised searching and navigation...Folksonomies are essentially a development in information retrieval, an interesting variant on the keyword-search theme." [1]

Application to Libraries and Archives

Folksonomies, are currently being used by both libraries and archives. The benefit of folksonomy applicaton to both library and archival patrons is in the ability to label and search individual items using "plain language" rather than a formal taxonomy and classification system. According to an article in Library Journal, "social bookmarking and tagging tools help librarians bridge the gap between the library's need to offer authoritative, well-organized information and their patrons' web experience."[1]

Earliest Library and Archival Websites Utilizing Folksonomies

Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collection

An experimental project led by Elizabeth Yakel called "The Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collections" at the Bentley Historical Society, the University of Michigan, first began using social tagging with its EAD finding aids to describe its collections. An article in D-Lib Magazine (May/June 2007) about the Polar Bear Expedition project called "Creating the Next Generation of Archival Finding Aids" describes the project's details. The individuals involved in the article and project were Elizabeth Yakel, Seth Shaw, and Polly Reynolds.


LibraryThing uses social tagging by displaying a tag search box, and several tag clouds, including: "related tags", "related subjects",and "related tagmashes", as well as RSS feeds for "Most often tagged with [tagname]", "using the tag [tagname]", and "Last 15 books tagged [tagname]".


At least 120 libraries have implemented what could be described as a type of "Mind Map", "constellation of words"[1], "visual map," or "word cloud" to enable researchers to browse libary catalogs by "the most relevant associations, foreign language translations, spelling variations, and synonyms"[1]. AquaBrowser functions by combining library cataloging metadata with user-generated keywords, or tags, they associate with a particular item in the catalog. Unlike traditional online catalog searching which requires "exact search terms", Aquabrowser's folksonomy tags allow "patrons to discover new information and help them formulate a query"[1].


Beginning 9 January 2008, Archivopedia began offering an experimental Archivopedia Folksonomy search and social tagging project for its wiki pages about archival topics and looking into ways to implement social tagging for its future deposited collections. Its custom search engine, EAD Central, uses tagging to label external repository collections. This tagging is done by Archivopedia. In January 2008, Archivopedia began using its custom Folksonomy search engine and adding links to EAD Central by incorporating archival collections as they are tagged by others. Archivopedia is working to generate a tag cloud for its own encyclopedia articles, as well as single tag clouds for each repository that is listed in the encyclopedia.

The Library of Congress Photo Collection Exhibit on Flickr

The Library of Congress announced on 15 January 2008 its Flickr pilot project that involves social tagging of images in their photo collection that have been uploaded to Flickr, a popular photosharing website that had previously implemented and been using folksonomy tags. The purpose of the experiment is to examine how Flickr users tag historical photos from an archival collection. Specifically, the Library of Congress hopes to accomplish three goals. First, "To share photographs from the Library’s collections with people who enjoy images but might not visit the Library’s own Web site." Second, "To gain a better understanding of how social tagging and community input could benefit both the Library and users of the collections." Third, "To gain experience participating in Web communities that are interested in the kinds of materials in the Library’s collections."[1] Using Flickr's slideshow feature, visitors to the site can view a streaming photo exhibit of the Library of Congress' uploaded images.

Social Bookmarking Services

Social tagging is implemented by a variety of social bookmarking services. These services include, but are not limited to:,

Folksonomy as Gaming

The ESP game, developed by Luis von Ahn and the team at Carnegie Mellon University who created CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA technologies, allows users to add descriptive tags to digital photo collection collected by the Internet Archive and the Google Images project via game interaction. The program is a Java applet that synchronistically matches two anonymous players online using the same service. Players compete for high scores which result when the players choose the same words to describe 15 images in a 2.5 minute time period.[1]


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