Monday, June 4, 2012

The Effect of Popularity on Social Metadata

For a class assignment, I had to choose two books and analyze their records in both WorldCat and LibraryThing. I chose one well-known book (Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club) and one lesser-known book (Val Webb’s Why We’re Equal). The gap in popularity between these two books had clear consequences for the thoroughness of their records. For example, Webb’s book had zero ratings and zero reviews in both catalogs, while Tan’s had hundreds. On some level, a book’s popularity should not determine how well done its record is; I feel like records should be somewhat objective. But at the same time, with the rise of social aspects of information sharing, the more people who access a material, the better filled-out its metadata will be. Looking at the two different catalogs addressed both of these issues.
WorldCat had the more “objective” records. Despite the fact that Webb’s book seems to be virtually unknown, its metadata did not feel to be lacking when compared to Tan’s. There were a few attributes in the “Details” section that Joy Luck Club had that Why We’re Equal did not, but the only one of these I felt was wrongly missing was that of “Genre.” Others, like “Additional Format” and “More Information” probably were just not applicable. Granted, Webb’s book was also missing the tags and reviews that Tan’s book had, but those were part of the social metadata anyway.
LibraryThing was definitely much heavier on the social tagging. And the number of “Members”  a book had definitely corresponded with how much information was in the book’s record. Tan’s book has 10,276 members, 103 reviews, and 30 tags, as well as extensive information about characters and setting, and relationships to other works—“Is contained in,” “Has the adaptation,” “Has a student’s study guide.” (I thought this “Work-to-work relationships” section was especially interesting.) Webb’s book, on the other hand, had only 11 members, and consequently no reviews, seven tags, and absolutely no information in the “Common Knowledge” section that contained all in the information that was available for Tan’s book.
Surely, part of this dearth of metadata (and publicity) could be due to the fact that Tan’s book is fiction, while Webb’s is non-fiction—i.e. there aren’t really characters in Webb’s book, so that facet would not be applicable. However, there were parts of the Webb record that were empty on LibraryThing simply because no one had gotten around to filling them out, and that could be because only 11 people had “added” it.
I love social tagging. I like being able to see what other people are reading and what they  think about it (though I prefer GoodReads to LibraryThing). And I think that having users fill out metadata fields can really add value to records, but I think it’s unfortunate that a book’s lack of popularity can result in it having an incomplete catalog record. There should be some kind of standard minimum. I think WorldCat did a good job of providing that minimum, but also integrating social features—tagging from users and reviews from GoodReads members.
In the end, though, a book’s popularity should not dictate the quality of its metadata.

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