Mob Indexing and the Need for New Information Literacies

I like the ring of it: mob indexing. It really adds a sense of thrilling adventure to what may be universally understood as a very sober, methodical task: indexing.  Random people from all over cyberspace (non-experts!) casually adding tags (keywords) to digital artifacts: photos, blog posts, books, documents, links, etc.- sounds like a messy, dangerous experiment, but it’s happening all the time.

Social tagging originated as a way for individuals to make sense of their growing collection of digital artifacts in a personally meaningful way, using their own keywords (vs. wading through and trying to ‘learn’ a complicated taxonomy created by ‘an expert’ ).  When tagging went social, particularly with the advent of del.ici.ous in 2003, personal ‘collections’ became vastly more discoverable.  This growth in findability deepened the sharing aspect of the World Wide Web, enabling people to discover new content, ideas and mentors, in a straightforward manner, using intuitive natural language.

By ‘following’ someone who collects links or photos that align with your own interests, you have in effect, gained a new mentor, or teacher.  And since people use different tags for the same content, you will also discover new points-of-view, ‘broadening your horizons’ so-to-speak. What you have then, is the beginnings of a nice little Personal Learning Network (PLN), the keystone element of infinite, life-long learning.

social_tagging_skitched
Social Tagging Woordle

In this era of participatory culture, there is a need for new information literacies. Web 2.0 tools give everyone the chance to develop a PLN, but students need guidelines to tap into them safely and effectively. When students:

  • can make use of tag clouds to improve their search queries;

  • are able to decipher when controlled vocabularies are more effective than subject searches;

  • can develop information organization strategies using tagging in conjunction with a more structured taxonomy;

  • understand that information is socially created, that research is no longer a solitary act, and that they will need to create and actively participate in communities of knowledge to be successful,

then they are better prepared to participate productively in a world of infinite learning.

Students need to understand how participatory technologies in general, and tagging in particular, work and how to put them to use.  The growth of social media and web 2.0 technologies has forever changed the information environment and information literacy instruction must reflect such changes (Farkas, 2012). Indeed, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Task Force for updating information literacy (IL) competency standards is looking closely at new ways knowledge  is created and disseminated, and aims to develop new definitions of IL that focus on student participation in creating new content.  Human inquiry, during a time in which anyone can be both consumer and producer of information which is in turn, available to anyone, anywhere , at any time, requires a new set of “sociotechnical” skills and tagging is  one of them (Tuominen et al., as cited in Farkas, 2012).

Pulling from a vast array of extant social tagging resources, I developed an instructional unit that works as a supplement to a broader information literacy (IL) program aimed at upper division college students.  The intent of the unit is to teach students the role social tagging plays in information organization and retrieval and to introduce the concept of folksonomies and the shifting authority structures with the rise of web 2.0 technologies.  If you’re interested, here’s the link to my narrated slides , but be forewarned: it’s a bit long (almost 20 min). My plan to create a streamlined version has yet to be realized.

Resources

Association of College and Research Libraries (2013). Retrieved from  http://www.acrl.ala.org/acrlinsider/archives/7329

Farkas, M. (2012). Participatory technologies, pedagogy 2.0 and information literacy. Library Hi Tech, 30(1), 82-94.

 

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