Social metadata for LAMs

Metadata helps users locate resources that meet their specific needs. But metadata also helps us to understand the data we find and helps us to evaluate what we should spend our time on. Traditionally, staff at libraries, archives, and museums (LAMs) create metadata for the content they manage. However, social metadata—content contributed by users—is evolving as a way to both augment and recontexutalize the content and metadata created by LAMs.

The cultural heritage organizations in the OCLC Research Library Partnership are eager to expand their reach into user communities and to take advantage of users’ expertise to enrich their descriptive metadata. In 2009 and 2010, a 21-member Social Metadata Working Group from five countries reviewed 76 sites of most relevance to libraries, archives, and museums that supported such social media features as tagging, comments, reviews, images, videos, ratings, recommendations, lists, links to related articles, etc. The working group analyzed the results of a survey sent to site managers and discussed the factors that contribute to successful—and not so successful—use of social metadata. The working group considered issues related to assessment, content, policies, technology, and vocabularies. Central to the working group’s interest was how to take advantage of the array of potential user contributions that would improve and deepen their users’ experiences.

Our first of three reports, Social Metadata for Libraries, Archives, and Museums, Part 1: Site Reviews, provides an environmental scan of sites and third-party hosted social media sites relevant to libraries, archives, and museums. It summarizes the results of our review, captured in the “At a Glance: Sites that Support Social Metadata” spreadsheet, and more detailed reviews of 24 representative sites. Cyndi Shein, assistant archivist at the Getty Research Institute, wrote the section on LAMs’ use of third-party sites and blogs. The second report is an analysis of the results from a survey of site managers conducted from October to November 2009. The third report provides recommendations on social metadata features most relevant to libraries, archives, and museums and factors contributing to success and an annotated list of all the resources the working group consulted.

As with many OCLC Research publications, this report was written to help meet the needs of the OCLC Research Library Partnership. The Partnership not only inspires but also underwrites this type of work, so many thanks to the institutions who both contribute to and support our work!

We look forward to hearing your feedback!


Karen Smith-Yoshimura, senior program officer, works on topics related to creating and managing metadata with a focus on large research libraries and multilingual requirements.