User Tools

Site Tools


Curating Sources


Hi Class, welcome to the week where we begin to discuss tools that you can use to curate information sources. Please remember that this is a short module---only two weeks long---and thus all work for this module is due by the end of the upcoming assignment.

In the previous forum we examined tools to manage academic sources of information. Some of the tools you'll look at this week can be used for those kinds of sources too, but what I want us to do this week is think more broadly about the kinds of information that we need, use, or like and that we may want to hold onto and the kinds of tools that will help us curate such sources. Generally the same issues hold true here as they do for managing academic sources, but it's also true that different tools afford us different capabilities, and that today, managing academic and non-academic sources has become more social.


This week we're reading a short and simple article that lists and describes a bunch of different platforms that are available for us to use to manage the sources we collect.

Valenza, J. K., Boyer, B. L., & Curis, D. (2014). Curation platforms: Library Technology Reports, 50(7), 60-65.

Astute observers will note that the term curation is used in that article and in the title of this week's discussion forum and lecture. That begs the question: what do we mean by curation? Well, it's a term we use to signify the caring for something or someone. Thus someone who actively and intentionally curates sources of information is a person who is engaged with the tools and the sources to do that best. By implication, this means not simply adding sources to a personal library and then forgetting about them, but paying attention to them, updating them, and removing them, if necessary. It's a continual process---akin to gardening or other activities that require an attending to.

Managing the Information Glut

Just like scholarly or academic information, there's also all kinds of regular or niche information. Each of you already know that because you experience it just about every day. That is, aside from being students and having to manage academic or related information, it's certainly true that we also interact with information related to personal health, various kinds of logistics that come with being a 21st person in a particular place, with hobbies and interests, shopping, personal records, business pursuits, things about friends, and so forth.

In our analog days, managing information of any kind may have meant putting documents in files and placing those files in folders and those folders in folder cabinets. Or it meant putting photographs in physical binders that we'd call photo albums. This kind of behavior has informed how we we practice this now but it was much more restrained because it was far more costly and time intensive. Even so, though we may use fewer beige folders for our physical papers, receipts, and other documents, and fewer binders for our printed photographs, we still create digital albums and digital folders to house all this stuff, and we do it just as a matter of course, that is, less intentionally, or it's done for us, algorithmically, by some company like Google Photos or Facebook.

Another big difference between then and now is that things have gotten much more social. When the social web was born, a number of tools arose that helped us not only manage how we collect and store information, but also allowed us to share it in newer ways and with more people, as well as create new content via engagement with those people. As a result, almost every tool that helps us manage information and sources of information has some kind of social component to it. The funny thing about this is that, in those analog days, there was a running joke about forcing friends and family to sit through photo slides or home movies, but now whole industries exist around sharing our photos and videos just because of that social aspect of the web.

Social Collecting on the Web

Many websites offer ways to collect and save information. At its most basic, there's the simple ability to star, like, favorite, heart, thumbs up, etc some thing that somebody has shared. E.g., Twitter has a heart button, and if you so-call heart a tweet, you end up saving it to a list of other tweets you've hearted. Consider also YouTube. If you give a video a thumbs up, then you've added that video to a list of others that you've liked. As such, this hearting or liking serves two main functions:

  1. A communicative function: e.g., when you click on that heart, you notify a person that you like her/his tweet;
  2. A collecting function: e.g., when you click on that heart, you save that tweet in a collection of other favorite tweets, which you can revisit and browse later.

Thus, sometimes favoriting/hearting serves to acknowledge a response to someone, but it also functions as a kind of bookmark. This dual activity is common across many social bookmarking sites, too, such as Pinterest.

Digital Curation

Curating and managing general information may or may not have a social component. Even without social, there is a whole area of work called digital curation. People who work in this area are responsible for working with a broad range of non-personal information, such as institutional documents, corporate documents, government documents, research data, and so forth. But when I talk about curating information, I'm talking about how you personally curate your own information that you save and use. Just like there are professional gardeners, there are also personal gardens. These are different areas, but we can definitely borrow from the ideas, best practices, and tools that professional digital curators use in their jobs.

Like professional digital curators, when we focus on curating our own information, we're focused on managing digital objects, evaluating them periodically, preserving them, if possible, for future use, organizing them, and ensuring we have access to them. For now, let's focus on two aspects of personal digital curation: organizing information and accessing that information.

Organizing Information

Collecting information and sources on the Web doesn't serve much of a purpose if we don't have a system to organize the information. Tags help serve this purpose.

Tagging can be a powerful tool, especially when it's social. Each of you already know what a tag is---you use tags on sites like Twitter, where they're called hashtags or on sites like Instagram. Tags enable us to describe sources or things and share them or retrieve them later from our own personal stores or from others. This is because not only do tags say something about the thing we're tagging, but they are often hyperlinked to things, and clicking on them will retrieve those things.

Although we're talking about non-academic information, let me use my old CiteULike account to explain the process. (I no longer use CiteULike, but I keep this image around because it helps convey what I mean.) The logic and functions hold true even for non-academically oriented sites.

Each one of the tags you see here in the right side image serves as a link. Clicking on one of those tags would retrieve all articles and books that were in my bibliographic reference library that share that tag.

So, as an illustration, if I click on the article title, that you see in this image, I'll only retrieve the full record of that article reference that I've collected. If I click on the link that begins with DOI, what that will do is take me to the web page for the article, so that I can read the full text if I like. If I click on the author, Stefan Gradmann, that will retrieve a list of all articles that I've saved that include him as an author, if I've saved other works by him. Because CiteULike is a social computing platform, that is, because others use this website for the same purpose I do, clicking on this author's name here will also retrieve other articles by this author, if others have saved works by him too. If I click on any of those tags that are links, I'll retrieve all articles or books, or even other types of scholarly communication, that share that tag. So if I click on the academic-libraries tag, I'll retrieve all articles, books, etc., that I've saved in my collection that have also been tagged with this term.

Accessing Information

Here's an example. I clicked on the scholarly communication tag/link from the previous slide's example, and I retrieved all the articles and other works that I had tagged under scholarly communication. You'll notice that I had 116 articles and works in my library that have this tag. As a result, I also retrieved articles that have other tags that my previous example did not. E.g., these two articles have the tag peer-review, which tells me that these articles are about peer review and scholarly communication in some way.

So I have what is basically a broad term, called scholarly communication, and then I have more narrow terms, one of which is peer-review. So this tag, peer-review, is for me a function of scholarly communication, just as metadata, a tag used in the reference on the previous slide, is also a function of scholarly communication, at least with respect to the topic discussed in that article on the previous slide.

Accessing Information

On some platforms, I can view my entire list of tags -- all of the ones that I've created and used in my entire library. The image on the right is a partial screen shot of my tag list or tag cloud. You can see that I've created and used over 1,000 distinct tags and that the size of each tag indicates the number of articles that use that tag. In my library, as an example, I've tagged 87 articles under academic-libraries, 75 articles under bibliometrics (down there at the bottom left of the image), and two articles that are tagged under authority (there just around the center of the image). If I click on any of those tags, I'll retrieve articles and other works that share that tag.

Technical term: folksonomy

Another way to refer to or talk about tagging is to use the term folksonomies. What this term indicates is the overall structure of the tags created by users of a system. It's the portmanteau of the words folk and taxonomy.

Take a moment and access these slides in Google Drive and watch this short video of this guy driving and talking about folksonomies. Despite the craziness of this, it's a good video with a nice overview of what folksonomies are.


Technical term: folksonomy

Aside from what the speaker mentions, there are some disadvantages of tagging and with creating folksonomies. These are:

  • polysemy: the ambiguity of an individual word or phrase that can be used (in different contexts) to express tow or more different meanings (ex: crane as in bird, crane as in construction equipment) (from WordNet).
  • synonymy: sameness of meaning (from WordNet)
  • plurals and parts of speech
  • depth of tagging - specificity

An example of specificity, say I have a tag in my library called lis-history. Now the odds of anyone else in the universe using the tag lis-history is low. It's my shorthand for library and information science history or the history of library and information science. This is problem of specificity---that is, relatively speaking, it's a tag that embodies a narrow concept, at least among non-library and information science professionals, among whom it might be a general term. It's the kind of tag that may be only used by me and perhaps a few other people, at most. And this specificity limits the likelihood that others would find and know what that tag means, especially because I use an acronym in the tag. Consequently, it limits possible sharing of the bibliographic reference, that is, dissemination, and collaboration. But it's still a useful tag for me, and so I keep it, because it represents something that I will be able to retrieve later on easily, since it has meaning to me.

Technical term: folksonomy

There are other important disadvantages to keep in mind when we use tagging or folksonomies. These are observed when we compare folksonomies to traditional controlled vocabularies or terms, the kinds that you became familiar with when you investigated your databases in previous weeks.

Consider LCSH or the Library of Congress Subject Headings. In the image to the right of the screen, there are three subject headings for this book:

  • decision-making
  • organizational-behavior
  • social sciences

These are all subject headings and if you click on a link to one, you'll retrieve all books in the online catalog that share that subject heading. Note the terms after the dashes: political aspects after the decision-making and organizational behavior headings and philosophy after the social sciences heading. These are called subdivisions and represent, in these cases, political aspects of decision-making, political-aspects of organizational behavior, and philosophy of social sciences. You can do the same kind of thing with tagging, that is, divvy up the broader terms, but in a less controlled fashion.

Source: UK Libraries link to Bounded Rationality and Politics

Technical term: folksonomy

Polysemy is when a word has more than one meaning. For example, the term library may refer to something like the thing you find when you visit WT Young or something like the thing you use when you write a computer program. Synonymy, or synonyms more commonly, as you know, is when two or more words have similar meanings. Controlled vocabularies and things like thesauri are created to help resolve these confusions in our language. While folksonomies offer a lot advantages, one's person use of library as a tag can't always be paired with another person's use of that term.

How is this resolved? Let's take a simple example of the thesaurus. Here's an image of a controlled term, chewing gum, which is a term the Library of Congress uses to describe works about chewing gum. You can see here that this main term has a variant, gum, chewing. Users who search using the terms gum chewing will be directed to works that have been assigned the controlled term chewing gum. Some controlled terms have many variants since there may be many ways to refer to the idea.

We also see that chewing gum has a broader term, confectionary, and a narrower term, bubble gum. The connection between these three terms, and the relation (broader than, narrower than) highlights how controlled vocabularies are not simply lists of specified terms to describe works and other objects, but that they are, more importantly, terms that are fixed in meaning, and then indexed and connected to each other in a web of other related terms.

So what folksnomies lack, controlled subject headings are good at. And vice versa.



In conclusion:

  • Collecting information often means collecting packages that contain information. A journal article, an image file, a music file, and so forth, are all instances of information packages.
  • Collecting information on the Web can be the result of the function of a web service (e.g., Twitter) that is used for other things (i.e., where the primary service is not collecting or bookmarking), or it can be the result of a site that is specifically used for collecting information, such as CiteULike, but also others that you may be more likely familiar with, such as Delicious and EverNote.


  • Collecting information is a useless activity if we do not have some means to organize that information for later retrieval.
  • Tags, and folksonomies, are a useful and interesting way to organize information.
  • Since tags are uncontrolled, they do suffer from some limitations. But in a way:
  • The advantages of controlled vocabulary are the disadvantages of folksonomies. And the advantages of folksonomies (such as being able to use my own terms) are the disadvantages of controlled vocabulary.

In these slides and in this presentation, I've discussed some of the advantages of controlled vocabularies and compared to folksonomies. In our forum this week, you'll discuss some of the advantages of folksonomies.

teaching/curating-sources.txt · Last modified: 2019/01/25 15:51 by seanburns