Participatory web technologies in libraries are empowering users to engage with each other socially through reviewing, tagging, and rating content to potentially expose it to thousands of people who might otherwise never have seen it. Arguably, this is a very good thing.
Users with specific domain knowledge can provide a more detailed, comprehensive description of a resource than a harried librarian may be able to. Devoting their time and expert knowledge to enrich a record adds immeasurable value to the system as a whole. Furthermore, emulating the robust recommender systems of web giants such as Amazon can be provide new, meaningful pathways to content discovery.
Third-party services such as LibraryThing and GoodReads already provide many of these functions, and are fast gaining a great deal of traction, making it possible for users to participate in catalogues—but these services still require external layers of software to function.
The problem with embracing this unchecked enthusiasm for social data lies in placing increased responsibility on unaccountable amateurs. Freely chosen words lack the structure or consistency demanded by cataloguing, and social data has a tendency towards mislabeling important data and misrepresenting contentious issues. Adversarial tagging or deliberate vandalism pollutes records, and personal tagging with no thought towards the overall context dilutes the usefulness of the system.
Existing cataloguing practices are overseen by the skilled work of experts, whereas the unmoderated nature of current social indexing platforms is lawless by comparison. Successfully integrating these participatory elements must be done with the utmost care.