An overflow crowd (including an overflow of the overflow room!) turned out to hear Roy Tennant of OCLC on User Generated Content (UGC) in libraries. Tennant said that UGC comes in two flavors: "real" content (documents, photos, etc.) and "descriptive" content (tags, descriptions, ratings, etc.). UGC is becoming more widespread in libraries as the realization grows that more content is better because it can help them provide more personalized service.
Tennant pointed to kete.net.nz, a New Zealand community repository as a good example of UGC. The site was envisioned as a genealogical repository as well as a digitization of the Cyclopedia of New Zealand, but the tone of the site quickly changed as advertising (houses for sale and professional services) began to appear on it. Other UGC sites offer a chance to tap into the knowledge of the community to supply missing data (for example, the Halton Hills Library in Ontario was able to identify some sailors in a photograph based on input by a user).
Perhaps the most well known of the recent UGC projects is that of the Library of Congress which put 3,000 photos on Flickr. The experiment was hugely successful; there were 5.5 million views of the content in the first month and 10,000 unique tags were generated by users. Over 3,500 comments were posted by 1,400 users, and from these, 68 records were enhanced or corrected. Through this experiment, the Library achieved a higher profile for its collection, community engagement, corrections and additions to the metadata, and sparked some discussion by users relating to the photos.
A number of third-party providers are entering the UGC space, including Springshare, LibraryThing for libraries, and ChiliFresh. Tennant said that this shows that UGC has an interesting future, and librarians must be aware of several issues:
- Our idea of content may not be the same as the users.
- The tagging will be messy, but that’s OK.
- There are ways to increase effectiveness through intelligent usage.
- Libraries need to set goals for UGC and make sure that they can deploy staff effectively to manage them.
- Will it be necessary to moderate the content?
- Is the potential impact worth the investment?
Tennant concluded that UGC offers libraries a great potential for content and service enhancement.
Columnist, Information Today and CIL 2008 Blog Coordinator