There’s an interesting post over on the conference.archimuse.com blog where Jennifer reports that research they’ve been undertaking on the use of the steve.museum tagger shows that greater than 75% of all new tags given to images in the experiment weren’t words originally associated with the image by museum staff when cataloguing.
That’s a pretty extraordinary statistic, and says something deep about the ways in which museums interpret and communicate their assets. I’m sure Jennifer will be drawing her own conclusions from this, but the first and most obvious response (without having read the research in depth, so shoot me down if you have..!) is either that museums are badly out of touch with how their users interact with their assets, or that findability isn’t that important to curatorial staff. Neither of these is a particularly positive conclusion to draw.
Ultimately of course, this comes down to a user-focussed (or not) approach, both to the way that assets are presented online, and the way that folksonomies and taxonomies are applied to collections in-house. Understanding the end-users of your product is one of those holy grail things which so many people (including me) preach about, and yet is missed time and time again. So often, it’s the organisational perspective which ends up being presented, and not that of the user. Inevitably, it’s users who end up losing out.