Abstract: Folksonomies arise in the context of the Information Society, spurred by the advent and widespread use of collaborative tools of Web 2.0, where the passive user has become both information producer and consumer. This paper attempts to answer the question: can we talk about folksonomies in archives? We start with the concept of folksonomy and an exploratory study in public archives, taking as an example the case of France, which seeks to know what the characteristics and specificities of folksonomies in archives are. It uses the technique of comparative analysis in the approach of qualitative analysis of several identified projects, settled in the scientific literature on the subject. This exploratory work seeks to be a contribution to the identification and knowledge of a poorly studied reality: folksonomies in archives. The characteristics of archival documents, with limited access and responsiveness due to legal issues also manifest in the specificity of the analyzed projects. Collaboration in indexing content is increasingly a reality, especially because it allows a greater degree of completeness of archival description. However, it was concluded that both users and the creation of access points are controlled, and not the free assigning of labels.
Keywords: Folksonomies, Information Science, public archives, France, access points
The institutions of memory (archives, libraries and museums) provide, beyond the functions of backup, organization and description, access to information. This is ultimately their most important function as it will allow the recovery of relevant information either for the source institution or external users.
The access to information is traditionally made through research instruments such as guides, catalogs, inventories and indexes. In Information Science and, especially in Library Science, it is common practice and century-old tradition to use thesaurus and categorize by subjects. Historically, “we know that the research instrument of greatest use in archives is the Inventory and that, in practice, it is infeasible to fund the production of other, more detailed tools, by the simple fact that their preparation would be extraordinarily time consuming.” (Ribeiro, 1996: 22, my translation - footnote 1). The degree of completeness required for the creation of access points to archive documents is not in line with either with the number of professionals working in the institutions or with the available time for the provision of information. Furthermore once information has become the center of attention of archivists work, “The particularities of internet environment, which highlights aspects such as interactivity, information access democratization, the breach of geographical barriers and the development of telecommunications technology, changed not only how to deal with patterns of representation and organization of information until then established but, also the human behavior and the form of communication of contemporary society.” (Barros, 2011: 16, my translatiom - footnote 2).
In fact, “The Information Society, in which reality enters the global archival community, has changed the ways of access to information. The appearance of World Wide Web revolutionized the relationships of users, customers and citizens with information. The development of collaborative tools using what is known as Web 2.0 has contributed, decisively, towards collaborative construction of knowledge, using collective intelligence where all are simultaneously consumers and producers of information.” (Silva, 2013: 1, my translation - footnote 3). and that “The novelty lies in the range of interested parties and the amount of work that is clustered.” (Bouye, 2012: 1, my translation - footnote 4). At the same time, “The collaborative environments that facilitate the use of collective intelligence and usage patterns have changed the way users relate to information, and also how the information providers relate to users.” (Yedid, 2013: 14, my translation - footnote 5). This change in the relation of services to users is found with the adoption of Web 2.0 tools and the folksonomies, on the invitation made to participation and collaboration of all in functions traditionally performed exclusively by the technicians, namely, the contents description and the creation of access points.
While in other cultural domains, such as museums, the use of the Web aims to increase users and in-person visitors, the archives focus their attention on the value of the document so it “can establish a true mass dissemination of archives, and start a collaborative scientific work on them, remotely” (Moirez, 2012: 191, my translation - footnote 6).
Therefore, on the perspective of availability of information on digital environment together with the collaboration made possible by Web 2.0, it was decided to analyze the folksonomies as a form of use of collective intelligence of a large number of cybernaut users to the increase of informational contents knowledge provided by the archives on digital environment. In a first point is explained the methodology used for the implementation of the proposed objective, then several authors are confronted in on order to reach the concept of folksonomy. Then it is explored various projects developed in French public archives which requires the collaboration of users on the documents description and, at last, it is discussed whether we really are, or not, towards folksonomies in archives.
In order to carry out this work a compilation of scientific literature, domestic and foreign, specific and specialized about folksonomies was first undertaken. The bibliography researched and adopted served, on the one hand, for determining the concept of folksonomies and, on the other hand, for the collection of examples of coeval scientific works which allowed measurement of the achieved responses and proposed conclusions.
The first conclusion reached was that, even though there already exists wide scientific literature about folksonomies, this one falls mainly in the area of Information Science and Library Science, with few studies that address the folksonomies in archives. An exception can be made for photographic archives where the use of Flickr is already widely documented. The same observation was made by Lasi?-Lazi? et al.: “As far as different communities goes, the new user centred approach in organizing knowledge produced a number of studies from the field of libraries and museums, where folksonomies are examined as a tool to enhance access to digitized collections and library catalogues. On the other hand, lack of research connected with archives could be noted, where folksonomies weren’t recognized as a viable approach.” (Lasi?-Lazi? et al., 2014: 690).
The main reasons that lead researchers to study folksonomies are that, “they aim to understand this form of organization of information in digital environments and how this setting, which includes network concepts, people and contents, may contribute to the development of methodologies and instruments of representation and retrieval of information in various contexts.” (De Assis & Moura, 2013: 87, my translation - footnote 7). It is also our goal with this work to seek to understand whether or how the archives leverage the collaborative tools of Web 2.0 and the collective intelligence for the construction of knowledge. The identification of two articles about collaborative indexing and folksonomies in French archives (Bouye, 2012; Moirez, 2012) very much helped our work.
At the same time, an on-line search was made in order to locate collaborative projects in public archives. Once more the obtained results were not satisfactory, with the larger number of examples referring to the use of Flickr for the identification and description of photos. The French case turned out to be the most reliable, since it was possible to identify numerous projects that fit within the area of the research we proposed to carry out. We have limited the case study to the French public departmental archives (footnote 8).
Given the search results and the collected bibliography, it was found that the French case is the best documented, either at bibliography level or at the level of practical cases, and therefore we adopted it as our object of study. France emerges as the European country of democratization on the access and provision of on-line archives, a feature that comes from the French Revolution and the creation of Archives Nationales (aiming to concentrate archives and encourage widespread access to all citizens). At the same time France promotes and stimulates the participation of citizens on the enrichment of the descriptions of its archives.
After this data collection phase, we proceeded to the technique of comparative analysis of the different projects located with the concept definition of folksonomies, within the qualitative analysis approach of the data collected.
2. Folksonomies: an approach to the concept
In this paper we will use the term folksonomy as it is the most used term in various scientific fields, although there are different definitions for the concept (Barros, 2011: 21; Guedes & Dias, 2004: 39; Lasi?-Lazi? et al., 2014: 685; Rapetti, 2007: 19-20).
Folksonomies arise because “of elements such as collaboration, interactivity, language and sociability network” (footnote 9) where it “explores, increasingly, the natural language and the participation of informational subjects” (De Assis & Moura, 2013: 86, my translation - footnote 10).
Yedid synthesizes a simple and objective definition of folksonomies: use of natural language and assignment of labels by resource users, in digital environment and in social environment (Yedid, 2013: 15).
This neologism is assigned to Thomas Vander Wal who defines folksonomy as “the result of personal free tagging of information and objects (anything with a URL) for one's own retrieval. The tagging is done in a social environment (usually shared and open to others). Folksonomy is created from the act of tagging by the person consuming the information.” (Vander Wal, 2007). This definition points out, as essentials features, the personal motivation for later access and retrieval of information, the use in a digital and social environment, and the production of contents by user of information.
For Santos, “folksonomy. It is a collaborative or democratic indexing, which is an approach focused on the user and it is related with the idea of users to collaborate with their own terms to index certain resource by labeling (from English, tagging)”. (Santos, 2013: 93, my translation - footnote 11). In a sentence, Barros says “folksonomy, [is a] practice which allows websites users to classify the contents available on the internet.” (Barros, 2011: 17, my translation - footnote 12). We can add that, “The indexing of the same site by several people benefits the mass effect to form a core of keywords which will be a kind of consensus acceptable by a majority of users. This type of indexing enables us to speak of folksonomy.” (Francis & Quesnel, 2007: 60, my translation - footnote 13).
Common to all these definitions is the triad of user, label (tag) and content. Each has a role in the building of the concept of folksonomy.
The folk (race, people) became central as, “pragmatic social subject, since they build relations by language and sharing of meanings. Such phenomenon marks the passage of a passive user searching for resources that suit their information needs to an active and dynamic subject of information flows. These changes can be viewed and analyzed in environments in which occur folksonomies.” (De Assis & Moura, 2013: 86, my translation - footnote 14). As you can see, “The peculiarity of the folksonomy is in the fact that users produce their own descriptors, using natural language.” (Barros, 2011: 17, my translation - footnote 15). Without the collaboration of users and cybernauts folksonomies does not exist.
The tags or labels are “a way of indexing, in which the people themselves, in this case the information users, classify documents and informational objects.” (Santos, 2013: 93, my translation - footnote 16). and “Even though it may receive different nomenclatures (indexing; subject cataloging; tagging; labeling; etc.) the act of representing a document through a concept is of the same nature in the different contexts - physical and digital.” (Guedes & Dias, 2004: 42, my translation - footnote 17). The assignment of labels to Web contents is done with terms chosen by common users (Gracioso, 2010: 140) and “It is a form of independent indexing, in natural language where there is no control of vocabularies, rules or policies of indexing.” (Barros, 2011: 17, my translation - footnote 18). Labels can be used by one or more users and “It is precisely this social dimension which is most useful to folksonomies in the area of information retrieval.” (Yedid, 2013: 16, my translation - footnote 19). In fact, the assignment of labels to contents and the construction of access points by a large number of participants in an environment aims to recover information and one of the arguments “to use folksonomies is that they are "better than nothing", since they introduce an element to improve the recoverability in a context where is not feasible to apply controlled languages.” (Yunta, 2009: 834, my translation - footnote 20).
The mass of information and the exponential growth of content on the Web hinder professionals' function of information representation hence folksonomies are seen, “as a new method of knowledge representation, with the largest number of studies carried out through the focus of information retrieval, focused on enhancing access and description of resources and extracting meaning from social tagging systems.” (Lasi?-Lazi? et al., 2014: 689). It is in this sense that, “The folksonomy practice appears as an alternative of information management at the time it allows any user of web to represent and retrieve information through keywords created freely and based on the meanings of the information itself.” (Barros, 2011: 20, my translation - footnote 21).
Folksonomies arise then as, “distributed classification systems, created by individual users” (Santos, 2013: 96, my translation - footnote 22). and although it differs from taxonomies, both fulfill the function of contents description (Gracioso, 2010: 151-152).
From the summary of the read and cited works we conclude the term folksonomy is the use of devices and applications of Web 2.0 which allows to user to put tags, taken from their own vocabulary and from natural language, which will form a set of access points which describe an information element. Work that is done by the cybernaut community, under different motivations but that always have as final goal the information retrieval.
3. Folksonomies in French public archives
As this paper does not intend to do a quantitative analysis but a qualitative approach it has selected only a few examples considered most significant of participants’ involvement on the creation of on-line access points in French public archives.
Among the French departmental archives, Pauline Moirez has identified about 20 collaborative indexing projects (Moirez, 2012: 188) and Edouard Bouyé pointed the intended achievement of 16 new projects of collaborative indexing for the 2012 year (Bouyé, 2012: 9). In his study, Édouard Bouyé divides the archives on three groups according to the form of user participation in the index: those who gives entire freedom to cybernauts, with no need of registration (ex: Cantal, Corrèze, Eure-et-Loir, Loire-Atlantique, Nièvre, Var); those who give entire freedom to cybernauts, after a mandatory registration and signing in on the archive site (ex: Martinique, Hautes-Alpes, Rhône, Yvelines); and, a third group, where the cybernaut has a framework which demands registration, to pass paleographical reading tests and to work on previously chosen documentation by archive services (ex: Rennes, Aube, Mayenne, Puy-de-Dôme) (Bouyé, 2012: 3).
The departmental archives from Loire-Atlantique promotes the collaborative indexing and explain on their site: “The data accessible using the form below aims to facilitate your research. They are the fruit of collective and permanent work of Internet users participating in the collaborative indexing and therefore reflect the current state of the work constantly evolving. They were not produced or approved by the Departmental Archives of Loire-Atlantique. They are incomplete because only a portion of the collection has been indexed and can be inaccurate. Do not hesitate to propose your own indexing! The Departmental Archives of Loire-Atlantique thanks you in advance for your participation”. (my translation - footnote 23)
Likewise, the departmental archives from Oise implemented the collaborative indexing and they appeal on their website: “To facilitate research, a device of collaborative indexing of documents is available to cybernauts for some collections. The contributions from users wishing to participate are made and given free of charge at the departmental Council of Oise that holds the operating rights of the data collected. The departmental Council is committed to not make commercial use of these data and not to transfer them to third parties, except in the context of scientific and cultural projects carried out by public bodies”. (my translation - footnote 24).
The departmental archives from Niève direct its request to a specific group of users: “In a participatory approach, genealogists can contribute directly to the indexing of scanned collections presented in genealogical research. It is a collective indexing, because it relies on the goodwill of web users, and public, since the indexed terms (surname, place name …) will be visible to all and can be searched from the forms tab "Search". Further involvement of web users is important, more of a large number of documents will be indexed and more targeted research on a surname for example, will be effective”. (my translation - footnote 25).
Collaborative indexing is also a tool used by Seine-Maritime archives that justifies its use: "The collaborative annotation allows users to enrich the content of the resources online. For this, new tools are being implemented to provide web users the opportunity to give some additional information. The goal is to use the collective contribution to offer new and better research tools. You will find below virtual ranking annotators. When recording an annotation, you can enter your nickname. Each annotation will then bear your nickname and they will be accessible from the multisearch. Those enrolled in the military have been selected to be candidates for this experiment. All your annotations contribute to the enrichment of a collective database. You will find tools to help you to search across all data annotated by cybernauts since the opening of the platform in January 2015”. (my translation - footnote 26).
The departmental archives Yonne bring novelty of collaborative indexing. “Opened after September 2010, the portal proposed web genealogists make their contribution to a new goal: that of the widest possible dissemination of the records scanned. It is accessible by search engines and as it is not produced by an external service provider, the departmental archives of Yonne seek the help of all of visitors to this portal. This is an extremely controlled indexing: prerequisites are restrictive with a letter to send, we present you with batches and you have a limited choice of documents to be indexed. It is far from the free indexing on the fly that can be encountered for example on the site of the Cantal archives, where each web user freely participate in the collective work, over the records he meets. This model has the disadvantage of being restrictive, but its advantage may lie without a doubt in the quality and reliability of data as indexed. It remains to be seen whether this will obtain the wide acclaim necessary to deal with the number of records (millions!) and not be confined to the small circle of passionate volunteers...” (my translation - footnote 27).
Common point to all these archives and to the appeals they make is that collaborative indexing is an individual work that can help all. The created access points remain on a free database and available to all web users. This will help forward further research “avoiding reading of hundreds of pages to find a surname, we arrive immediately on the record that is sought”. (my translation - footnote 28)
The documental typologies available to collaborative indexing are, mostly, parish records and civil records (baptism or birth, marriage and deaths), population census, military enrollment and local press.
For the digital objects available on-line the departmental archives from Cher, Loire-Atlantique, Nièvre, Oise, Rhône, Seine-Maritime and Yonne created an indexing system with predefined fields to be completed by user; they are: name, surname, date, nationality, residency, profession, literacy, etc. In other cases the registration of the type of record (baptism, marriage, death, for example) is also requested.
In the case of archives of Yonne, it is necessary to register and create a user account; followed by a paleography test. Lastly, “Cautious, Yonne archivists prefer to validate one by one the entries to ensure the quality of work that will be provided.” (my translation - footnote 29)
Let us now see whether we can apply the concepts of folksonomies to the realities found in these archives.
4. Specificities of folksonomies in archives
The first observation is that both French literature and the pages from French archives use the designations “collaborative indexing” and “participatory archives” and not folksonomies. This issue might be related to a greater resistance to the use of foreignisms, but it is still significant for the work in question and for the conclusions we intend to reach..
Taking as starting point the simplistic view that folksonomies are the combination of user, label and content, then it can be said that the projects analyzed in archives fulfill this threefold observation. An explicit and clear request is made for participation from web users to assist in the allocation task of access points (tags) to available digital content to improve ease in information retrieval. At this point, the archives are not very distant from what is done in libraries or museums, for example.
However, Pauline Moirez claims, regarding archives, that although “Often abandoning superficial interactions and exchanges with their users, however they develop ambitious projects of crowdsourcing, of "participative archives" […], based on providing knowledge and skills of web users and to improve and facilitate access to their records.” (Moirez, 2012: 188, my translation - footnote 30). And concludes: “In fact, whilst the various heritage and cultural fields all make use gradually of the social web for the development and mediation of their collections, projects and achievements show decidedly different choices, in terms of strategy, relations with users, of technologies.” (Moirez, 2012: 188, my translation - footnote 31). That is, the archives use a different approach whether in strategy of representation of contents or in the relation with users, and this is what occurs if you compare the concept of folksonomy and the reality of the projects above analyzed.
Now to look at some specifics about the use of folksonomies in archives.
Starting with users, the first issue that seems to exist in archives, and as opposed to the world of libraries and museums, is the absence of a greater number of indexing projects, or of collaborative description. This seems to be related to the lack of confidence of professionals in the capabilities of web users in creating access points; in this case, it is not justified to open the space to collaboration (Silva, 2013: 47). Similarly, Pauline Moirez alleges that “archivists are particularly sensitive to the quality of information produced by the users” (footnote 32) but “This is why crowdsourcing operations are supervised, and usually integrated on institutional websites instead conducted on social media where the verifications are more complex to perform” (Moirez, 2012: 192, my translation - footnote 33).. In other words, these authors point out some limitations to the will of collaboration by archives mainly due to mistrust regarding the information quality introduced by non-professionals. Is this part of the equation that results in such a tiny number of collaborative projects in archives? The situation is surmountable through the registration on institutional sites and even the realization of paleographical reading tests (Bouyé, 2012: 7), as in the departmental archives of Yonne.
Here comes “An important factor, among others, influencing the sharing of information and knowledge organization is the user's motivation.” (Santos, 2013: 102, my translation - footnote 34). That is why several departmental archives make a specifically targeted appeal to web genealogists (the archives of Niève calls them “généanautes”) that, as “egocentric” users (Canãda, 2006), want to know more about their origins and their family, and end up sharing information with everyone. It turns out to be, likewise, a personal appeal because each user will want to access to information related to their ancestors and if each one contributes to this identification the information will be accessible for the whole community of researchers. This point can be connected with the quote Santos makes that “Cohen believes that individuals only share if they receive something in return.” (Santos, 2013: 99, my translation - footnote 35).
ISAD(G) standards establishes the basic principle of multi-level description; beyond that the archives description is also conditioned by the levels of archival analysis, which can be summary, deep or extensive. As noted earlier, the majority of documentation in archives is described at series level, because the degree of completeness and specificity necessary for the description of each item is not consistent either with the human capacities nor the financial possibilities of the institutions, or the delays that it would involve. This leaves a significant number of documents untreated and “It is precisely to respond to this request that crowdsourcing operations are implemented: identification, description and indexing at the item level, even transcription of content to enable full-text search.” (Moirez, 2012: 190, my translation - footnote 36). Take a look, for instance, the request made on the site of the departmental archives of Loire-Atlantique: “The collection is very large and proposed indexing by archivists provides a first level of relevant research. To go further and faster, the departmental Archives asks you to participate in the indexing of persons listed in the population census (1836 to 1931), for example, every time you have identified one of your ancestors.” (my translation - footnote 37). The calling for participation on indexing of contents is justifiable, on the one hand, by the volume of records and, on the other hand, by the delay in processing, which will become faster with everyone helping.
And here we come to informational contents of archives documents and the features which will affect the creation of access points, and make folksonomies in “specials” archives.
The features of archive documents, mostly their unique character, affects their treatment, and do not allow the exchange of information between institutions (Moirez, 2012: 190). The French case presents availability of baptism or birth records, marriage and deaths, military enrollment, population census; in short, documentation with names of people and places. Users are asked to create a univocal access point (name, surname, place, age, etc.), a faithful representation of the information content, with no place for ambiguity, homonym, synonym and polysemy (Yedid, 2013: 18), often marked by the authors as disadvantages of folksonomies. The access points created in these archives are close to the concept of Quintarelli of “narrow labels” that “has as an example the Flickr website that hosts and share photos, and they are characterized by few people using one or more labels, which means sharing own vocabularies and not terms so popular as in the broad folksonomies.” (Barros, 2011: 26, my translation - footnote 38).
It is not intended that the indexer-collaborator-user assigns a term of the natural language, but it is demanded to indexer to read and to transcribe, with accuracy, the terms to describe, with the possibility of correction by the organization or other users (e.g.: archives of Oise). The end result of all created access points are alphabetical indexes (onomastic and / or geographic), which places this at the level of information representation and not to representation of knowledge (Brascher & Café, 2008). The extraction of contents by collaborative indexing can cause an unlimited number of labels or access points for the same informational object. In the case of archive documents that does not occur because on documents offer for projects using folksonomies (parish records, civil records, census lists of population, etc.) only a singleaccess point is wanted, unique and accurate: the name of the person, the birthplace, its age, etc. This is the specificity of folksonomies in archive: it is not intended maximise labels but maximise accuracy at the point of access.
Lastly, if in a “system based on folksonomies there is no single guideline that guides the representation of documents, the task is distributed among the various users of the service, doing without a global indexing policy.” (Strehl, 2011: 111, my translation - footnote 39) then that is not what is seen in case of archives in all. The task is assigned to users but there is guidance to the work, so this paper is targeting specificities of folksonomies in archives.
The taxonomies, classifications and thesaurus have never been traditional instruments of representation and retrieving of information in archives. Folksonomies do not seem to be a widespread option used by archive services, which is proved by the scarce bibliography on the subject, and the limited identification of projects and real cases.
Some of the features of folksonomies, such as ambiguity, homonym, synonym and polysemy is not seen on indexing projects in archives since what is requested is a true and accurate representation of the content. The access points generated by users must be univocal (people names, places, etc.) and there is a strong paleographic component which is not found on other fields (photos, maps, books, music, video) and, therefore, less inclusive of the number of people who can contribute.
The contribution of users to the description of archival contents is of undoubted value as it allows a greater access to information, mostly by the level of completeness which can be reached and that would otherwise be too time consuming and only available after a long time.
The accumulation of documents, the time consuming task of providing a level of completeness in information description and the massive provision of digital objects by archives are sufficient reasons for a greater investment on collaborative indexing. By opting for folksonomies, the work of archivists is no longer lonely and opens to a world of collaboration, often specialized and expert, as is the case of genealogists and local history historians.
In conclusion, in archives we have controlled collaboration for specific documents, users are not free to add random tags and, in some cases, they only can do it if they prove to have certain skills. But nevertheless, the collaboration of users on the creation of access points in archival description still remains a potential benefit made possible by information technologies and by collaborative tools from Web 2.0.
1. Original text: “sabemos que o instrumento de pesquisa de maior utilização nos arquivos é o Inventário e que, na prática, é inviável chegar à produção de outros instrumentos mais detalhados para todos os fundos, pelo simples facto de a sua elaboração ser extraordinariamente morosa.” (Ribeiro, 1996: 22)
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