Patron Preferences for Folksonomy Tags: Research Findings When Both Hierarchial Subject Headings and Folksonomy Tags Are Used

Elaine Peterson


Objective: With the emergence of folksonomy as an option for subject tagging, discussions have ensued about the costs and benefits of continuing to construct and apply traditional subject headings, given that patrons now can generate their own tags. To date, there are very few databases that allow both systems to coexist.

Methods: Within the full text ETD (Electronic Theses and Dissertations) database at Montana State University, both traditional, hierarchical subject headings and patron applied tags are allowed. Patrons are encouraged to tag and the database even features a browse tag capability and a featured ETD. After 24 months of coexistence, data was gathered and analyzed to determine patron use and preferences when given the option of adding their own tags.

Results: Very few patrons take advantage of adding their own tags. After 2 years, only 2.5 percent of the ETDs have acquired folksonomy tags. A gradual replacement of LCSH headings by patron tags has not occurred.

Conclusions: The main preference for patron-generated tags can be characterized as very narrow in application and in general would have been disallowed under a traditional library subject heading scheme. Despite the low usage, the folksonomy tags are a positive focal point and have generated collaboration within the database.


folksonomy, cataloging, subject headings, electronic dissertations

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