Thursday, March 20, 2008

New ideas from the VR community

I just returned from the annual VRA (Visual Resources Association) conference in San Diego. The conference was from March 12 to March 17 - the first time a VRA conference has spanned a weekend, that I can remember.

Wednesday the 12th was a busy day for me; first I attended the plenary session on "Image Rights: Perspectives from Copyright Owners" in the early morning.

Then I went to a session of "Social Tagging in Online Collections" - which was really great! There were four speakers, Adam Lauder from McGill University, Billy Kwan from the STEVE project at the Met, Laurie Allen from the University of Pennsylvania, and Margaret Kipp from Long Island University. Social tagging (or folksonomy) has been somewhat controversial in the VR community, where many image curators are reluctant to relinquish any control over vocabulary assigned to images. These four speakers, however, illustrated how social tagging can be incorporated to add a richness and depth to image cataloging that can work in tandem with a controlled vocabulary to the benefit of students and faculty.

Margaret Kipp, who is a professor and Doctoral Candidate in Information and Media Studies, has studied patterns in tagging that are very fascinating. Most social tagging falls into two categories: time-and-task tagging, and affective tagging. The former includes people tagging articles and websites "toread" or "todo" as a reminder to themselves. Affective tagging is more emotional and perceptive to the subject, such as "cool" or "fun" or even "boring." Margaret was mostly examining academic articles (scientific, news, arts) and social bookmarking sites like, but her findings seem to hold true for social tagging in general.

(I have often been bemused by the fact that some people feel compelled to comment (tag) on things that really don't need commenting on - such as the tag "cool" on images on Flickr. As though they can't help themselves. Must comment. Perhaps it creates a feeling of inclusion into a community?)

Laurie Allen (from the University of Pennsylvania) spoke about the PennTags Project on her campus, which was really cool (haha). UPenn has created a means of social bookmarking within their own university sites (including the library and slide collection), using their equivalent of the MyUW page.

The session was very thought-provoking and timely. The Library of Congress added a large collection of digital images to the image-sharing Flickr website earlier this year, encouraging the public to tag the images. I have enjoyed looking at and tagging some of the images, and reading the tags that other viewers add (including "cool"); you can see the images at Flickr here:

I would love to see tagging incorporated as part of the digital image database software that we use in the VRC, the MDID. The MDID developers have been concentrating on interoperability in conjunction with the MLIS grant they received last year, but maybe they will be encouraged to work on the tagging aspect, as well.

I will describe more about the VRA conference later!


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