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Keywords and social tagging are

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Complete the sentence below by filling in the blanks.

Keywords and social tagging are ______ approaches to access. They provide ______ collocation for resources.


A) natural-language

B) controlled-language


A) a high level of

B) no


1. natural-language

2. no

Keywords and social tagging are natural-language approaches to access. They provide no collocation for resources.


Janis L. Young and  Daniel N. Joudrey¹ describe this question as below:

Natural Languages Approaches


  • Extracting words from documents
  • Uncontrolled keywords / tags

Where we use natural language most frequently

  • General notes
  • Content notes
  • Summaries

There are many ways that catalogers could describe the subject matter of documents.

They could pull words from the documents themselves, or catalogers could simply pull words out of their heads. We are aware, however, that these approaches lead to inconsistency.

People can use very different words to express the same idea. For example, just in English, sweet carbonated beverages, such as Coca-Cola or Pepsi, are referred to by various terms in the United States alone. In various parts of the US, that beverage is referred to as a soda, a pop, a soft drink, a soda pop, a tonic, or even as a “coke” (used generically, not referring to a specific brand).

And we also know that the same word (for example, bridge) can be used for two or more different concepts. The words chosen by a creator to represent a concept may vary throughout a text (using first one word and then a synonym, then another variation, and so on).

With this kind of inconsistency, it’s easy to see why extraction or keywords (otherwise known as tags) can be problematic. 

In recent years, user tagging has become popular throughout social media but it also has been used for some specific library projects. For example, at the Library of Congress, the Prints and Photographs Division has invited the public to supply tags for digital historical images that it has uploaded to a FLICKR website. For a project of this nature, tagging has been helpful in identifying unknown places, objects, and people.

But in other contexts, tagging or general keyword assignment can be chaotic and unhelpful.

If this were the only approach to describing resources, then that violates one of the goals of organizing information – to collocate (or bring together) like resources. 

We do, however, use natural language in creating some library metadata.

We use it for all sorts of notes, particularly in contents notes where we transcribe the table of contents into our bibliographic description. We record the author’s words exactly in these cases; for example, we would never replace the phrase “soda pop” in a chapter title with the preferred term “soft drinks”!

We also see natural language used in summaries. If a summary is found in a publisher’s blurb on the back of a book, we will record it as it is written.

In some cases, the natural language terms found in summaries, abstracts, tables of contents, and other parts of the record can be useful in retrieving the resource if the terms used are different from the terms found in the controlled vocabulary.

In some cases, the searcher may choose a term that is widely used among metadata records and as a result get an overwhelming number of search results filled with many, many false drops. This certainly can impede efficient and effective retrieval.

Semantic Difficulties with Keywords
  • No synonym control
  • No homograph/homonym control
  • Function as different parts of speech
  • No relationships among terms
  • Little or no context
  • Puts the burden on the searcher

Lots of semantic difficulties can arise when searching by keyword only. For example:
  • We love synonyms, which are different ways of expressing the same meaning; this affects the way resources are written, the way resources are described for organizing purposes, and also the way we search.
  • Virtually every word in the English language has more than one meaning or sense, and many of those senses even have more than one nuance.
  • Many words can also be used as various parts of speech, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. And, most search systems cannot yet distinguish among different meanings or various parts of speech.
  • There also aren’t relationships among keywords. There is a relationship between the terms toys and dolls, but the individual keywords are not connected.
  • When keywords are used to describe resources, often those keywords lack any context. So we are left asking, How do those individual keywords relate to each other?
  • And finally, searchers must come up with every possible word that is used to describe the concept if they are interested in getting all the pertinent materials. This can often require in-depth knowledge of the field.
Because of these types of difficulties, librarians, archives, museums, and other information institutions tend to favor the use of controlled vocabularies

What is a controlled vocabulary? 
  • A standardized subject language used to describe the contents of the resources.
  • They generally include:
    • One term chosen as the preferred term
    • Control of its synonyms
    • Disambiguation among homographs/homonyms 
    • Identification of relationships among the terms
    • Cross-references

A controlled vocabulary is a list of authorized terms used to provide consistency and uniqueness among subjects in our descriptions of resources. The terms may be called subject headings, or descriptors, index terms, thesaurus terms, identifiers, or subjects.

Whatever you call them – all terms representing the same concept are brought together under one preferred term to provide collocation. For example, in LCSH we use Young adults even if the resource itself uses the phrases Young people and Young persons.

In LCSH, if a homonym is in popular use, we have to address it in some way, as well. For example, we use Bridges for the structures crossing rivers, but Bridges (Dentistry) for a partial denture. The term Bridges (unadorned) cannot be used for both.

Also, relationships among the terms are identified to create a syndetic structure (a network of relationships); we show that a doll is a type of toy and that the two terms representing those concepts have a hierarchical relationship.

Cross references are also created from unauthorized terms. The unauthorized terms point to the chosen (or preferred) term used to represent the concept. For example, we point from Young people to Young adults in LCSH.



1. Janis L. Young and  Daniel N. Joudrey, Library of Congress, "Library of Congress Subject Headings: Online Training," (accessed March 17, 2020).

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