Subject Headings 2.0: Folksonomies and Tags

Abstract: West explores how a work's "aboutness" is determined. She contrasts subject headings with folksonomies (tagging) as a classification method.

She surveys a few examples and then notes what tagging systems have in common:

  • tags are links,
  • created by users,
  • social and
  • have flat hierarchies.

The main drawbacks of tagging are that they can be excessively personalized and can't deal with words that have multiple meanings.

She advocates for the value of tagging as adding:

  • findability to standardly-classified collections,
  • findability for personally-relevant categories, and
  • a research boon that reveals users’ information-seeking behavior.


I agree with West that tagging will, more and more, be used to supplement standard classifications. However, the key to making the best use of metadata is to make it a globally-held literacy. In this way, we can leverage the combined power of billions of users.

But a key curricular point for that literacy program must be adherence to and creation of simple, shared standards for interoperability, otherwise it will just degenerate into a morass.

West, J. (2007). Subject Headings 2.0: Folksonomies and Tags. Library Media Connection, 25(7), 58-59. Retrieved September 28, 2008, from Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts Full Text.