Exploring Social Tags in a Digitized Humanities Online Collection



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The recent development of Web 2.0 technologies has been implemented in many applications with an emphasis on user contribution, active user participation, and harnessing of collective intelligence. In particular, interest has grown in the use of tagging, as tagging allows users to add their own keywords or tags to online documents and images so that they can organize resources for themselves, share them with others, and find resources that others have tagged.

With this trend, libraries, archives, and museums are providing digitized collections of primary resources to support learning, research, and scholarly activities along with social tagging software to collect user’s terms. Digital archival collections and tagging the backbone of the infrastructure of digital humanities as digital archival collections have become vital for scholarly research and teaching in humanities for resources access (Sinn 2012) and as tagging provides users a tool to hold a personal interpretation of resources to make meanings in a personal activity (Golder and Huberman 2006; Trant and Wyman 2006).

While an implementation of tagging has been increased in many digital archival collections, most studies investigated tagging in social networking systems such as Flickr, where broad communities contribute to content for different motivation often based on personal intentions. Few studies have paid attention to the tagging of primary resources from digitized collections for research and educational activities. Research thus is needed to develop a basic understanding of how users tag primary resources, and how tagging may function in digital humanities.

The purpose of this study is to find the value of tags in a digital collection for research and educational activities by investigating the way users describe digital resources in tags. Specific research questions are: What kinds of terms do users assign to primary historical and classical resources as tags? In what ways can tags be used to supplement for retrieval purpose and resource representation? Do tags in digital scholarly collections go beyond content description? How do social tags differ from textual annotation of the object?

The research is an empirical study collecting data to find descriptive evidence of tagging values and tagging behavior of scholars and users in conducting online research in the 19th-century British and American literature of the NINES (the Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship). NINES is a federated online collection of peer-reviewed digital objects from more than 110 sites where humanities scholars can find and bring together primary sources, images, literary and cultural documents, and literary criticism in the field of 19th-century studies (Earhart 2010).

Tag analysis will be done based on several categories to identify functional and linguistic aspects of tag usage as well as to find the relationship between tags and annotation of the resources. Tags will be analyzed based on syntax and variations in spelling. Tags will be categorized based on subject-related tags describing the content of the resource and resource-related tags referring to the resource itself. The degree of overlap between tags and annotation will be examined. The findings will help understand users’ tagging behavior and resource interpretation in primary and historical resources in humanities.

This poster was originally presented at DH2013 on July 17, 2013.


Earhart, A. Using NINES Collex in the Classroom. ProfHacker, 10 May 2010.

Golder, S. A., and B. A. Huberman (2006). “Usage Patterns of Collaborative Tagging Systems.” Journal of Information Science, 32(2): 198-208.

Sinn, D. “Impact of Digital Archival Collections on Historical Research.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 63(8): 1521-1527.

Trant, J., and B. Wyman. “Investigating Social Tagging and Folksonomy in Art Museums with steve.museum.” (pdf),a paper for the Tagging Workshop, World Wide Web 2006. Edinburgh, Scotland, May 22, 2006

About Youngok Choi, and Sue Yeon Syn

Dr. Youngok Choi is Associate Professor in the Department of Library and Information Science at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. Her areas of research include information seeking behavior, image retrieval system design, digital libraries, cultural heritage information management, and human-computer interaction.

Dr. Sue Yeon Syn is an assistant professor in the Department of Library and Information Science at the Catholic University of America. Her research interests focus on social media and social informatics, and user involvement in information creation and sharing. She uses social media as a channel for users to participate in creating information, and applies various methods to make the best use of user generated information for different purposes such as metadata generation, information organization, and information sharing. Her research also addresses user’s information behavior in social media settings. Her current research projects include understanding user generated tags for digital humanities collection and analyzing users’ activities in social media for health-related information sharing and personal documentation.