Thank you, NARA, for making tags searchable

Back in January, I wrote about the new Online Public Access search feature at the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA).

Then, over the summer, I read a NARA blog post stating that they would be allowing user-submitted tags in their new catalog system. This is great, I thought, but then remembered my disappointment with WorldCat’s tag function: users could submit tags but not search them.

So I submitted the question in a comment on NARA’s blog post: will user-submitted tags be searchable?

I left that question on August 23, and I received an answer the following day (although I didn’t realize it). The answer was posted in a follow-up comment from one of the administrators, and since there had been no “check this box to receive emails about follow-up comments” check box, I kind of forgot about it and didn’t realize they had answered me until tonight, when I was reading a related (new) NARA blog post about tags…which linked back to the old one.

Anyhow, now I have my answer, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s the answer I wanted: in short, YES, the NARA online public access catalog tags are searchable.

Here is the response I received from blog admin Meredith D. on Aug. 24, 2011:

Tags are now searchable within OPA, via the main keyword search box on both the basic and advanced search screens. A system update scheduled for late September will feature a separate search box on the Advanced Search screen to limit searches on tags only. At that time, users will still be able to keyword search tags in the main search box, but you will also be able to search on tags alone (and not other parts of the description metadata).

I’ve tried it, and it actually does work! Hooray!

To check it out, go to the NARA Online Public Access search page. If you just search in the main search box on that screen, it will search tags as well as everything else.

If you click Advanced Search, you will have the option to search only User Contributed Tags (third section from the top).

In my opinion, this is fantastic. Why allow users to submit tags if you aren’t going to let those tags be searchable? Having done some research on the uses of social tagging (hello, library school research paper), I understand that there are some ways that users might want to use tags that does not require them to actually be searchable. But it just seems silly to collect that great folksonomy and not make it available for everyone to use it, via including it in keyword searches.

I mean, I know librarians love their controlled vocabulary terms, but come off it. Let’s be honest: there are some pretty unintuitive Library of Congress Subject Headings out there.

For instance: “World War, 1939-1945.” I mean, really? Would it really be so bad if we could also add a tag for “WWII” and make it searchable? NARA doesn’t seem to think so.

(I’m talking to you, OCLC.)

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