May 3, 2010

Social Bookmarking in Academic Libraries

Posted in library 2.0 tagged , , , , , , , at 11:15 pm by abigailallyn


The creation of tools like pathfinders, study guides, and bibliographies has been integral to academic library service for generations. When the Internet became a standard method of information delivery these tools also began to be created digitally. Librarians often used bookmarking as a means of collecting Web resources that they planned to pass on to users. Traditional bookmarking on computers relied upon storing web addresses in a browser. Social media has allowed people and institutions to compile bookmarks and have access to them from any computer with Internet-access. Libraries can use web-based bookmarking to collect resources and make them available to their patrons. The social aspect of “social bookmarking” comes into play when these Internet-based bookmarks are made available for use by selected people or the public. Tagging and folksonomies have allowed users to enter into library classification furthering the social nature of this type of bookmarking.

Tagging and Folksonomies

Unlike conventional browser-based bookmarking, social bookmarking sites typically utilize tagging instead of folders to organize bookmarks into multiple categories (Pack, 2007, p. 36). Tags are like keywords and are added to descriptions of resources mostly by volunteers. Tagging is not exclusive to social bookmarking sites, but it is one of its main benefits. Before, organizing bookmarks by users on their own computer could become cumbersome and disorganized very quickly. Tagging allows users to define their own keywords for resources that permit them to make searchable databases of their own bookmarks. This search-ability of bookmarks also extends outside of the users account to allow them to search other users’ bookmarks for similar resources. However, tags are not always created with the common good in mind; sometimes they are created just for the user’s personal needs and may not actually describe the resource they are attached to.

When a mass number of tags are aggregated together to describe a resource, this is called a “folksonomy”. In his article “A ‘’ Way to Use Bookmarks”, Thomas Pack (2007) describes folksonomies as “a user-generated classification system” (p. 36). While folksonomies are a collaborative method to organize content by the people through the language of the people, it does have its downsides. A negative aspect of folksonomy tagging is that unlike controlled vocabulary used in library settings, like the Library of Congress Subject Headings, there is no standard dictating what tags users decide to employ to describe their bookmarks or how they are formatted. In the text, “The Organization of Information” (2009), user created tags are described as having the following issues, “no synonym or homograph control, no control of word forms (i.e., singular vs. plurals, etc.), impaired precision and recall, and no hierarchal and associative relationships identified.” To demonstrate the dissimilarities found in user-created tags, the authors used an example of possible tags for a science fiction resource: science fiction, sciencefiction, science_fiction, ScienceFiction, scifi, SciFi, sci-fi, fiction.sciencefiction, cienci ficcion, sf, SF, sff, and siensfixion (p. 367).

Benefits of Social Bookmarking

Social bookmarking is an easy and inexpensive way for libraries to bring reviewed web-based resources to users. It allows libraries to work with widely available (and usually free) tools on the Internet to help collect sources of information for users including websites and in some cases a library’s cataloged records and database resources. In the article “Social Bookmarking for Library Services”, the authors Gilmour and Strickland (2009) describe many important benefits social bookmarking has for libraries including the ability to create resource guides, book lists, and answer guides to specific reference questions. In their conclusion, the authors state that “Social bookmarking has enabled us to solve a problem of bibliographic access without recourse to modification of cataloging practice”. Gilmour and Strickland make an important point: social bookmarking allows libraries to reach the user without changing the entire library organization system to do so. Libraries can now make resources for patrons that can reflect their information needs. A retired librarian, Sally Trexler (2007), also acknowledged the many advantages of using social bookmarking in libraries:

“This tool is a natural for librarians. You can create annotated bibliographies, subject guides to curriculum topics, reading lists, build a collection of classroom resources collaboratively, create customized tags for use by classes, create differentiated lists of resources on the same topic, collect web-based projects under a custom tag to place on a school, library, or class wiki, blog or web page.”

Libraries are utilizing social bookmarking not just to compile lists of resources, but to make their resources easy to bookmark by library users. By including a widget with favicons (linked website or bookmark site icons) of social bookmarking sites on library pages, site visitors can easily bookmark library resources and add it to their own social bookmarking accounts. This is also present in library catalogs, like at the Miami Dade College Libraries, where users can utilize the “Bookmark & Share” widget provided and save the cataloged record.

Tagrolls and Linkrolls

Tagrolls and linkrolls allow social bookmarking users to place data from their accounts onto other websites. Tagrolls appear as tag clouds which are words or phrases that are sized differently to show their importance or frequency. When a user clicks on one of the tags, they are redirected to the social bookmarking site which lists all the resources with that same tag. Linkrolls are lists of links from social bookmarking sites whose compilation was determined by the user from their own tag(s). When site visitors click on the links they will directed to that specific URL and not the hosting social bookmarking site. The advantage of using linkrolls is that it keeps users on the library website instead of requiring them to visit the social bookmarking website to view the bookmarked resources. The appearance of linkrolls and tagrolls can be manipulated through CSS1. Most social bookmarking sites make it easy to create and customize linkrolls and tagrolls through script generators. For example, under Diigo’s Tools, users can select “Enhanced Tagrolls” and then choose their Display Options including the title, whether to include descriptions, the number of links to display, and color and font selections under the Customize option. This allows librarians to seamlessly integrate linkrolls and tagrolls into their websites by matching the overall style scheme of their site.

Social Bookmarking Examples


Delicious is the most popular and well-known social bookmarking site (Darby & Gilmour, 2006). In order to combat some of the difficulties of user tagging and folksonomies, Delicious recommends tags to users when they bookmark a site for vocabulary control. For example, when a user attempts to tag a website Delicious suggests preexisting tags that were most popular among other users tagging this same site and also recommends the user’s previously utilized tags for other resources. For tag management, Delicious allows users to create Tag Bundles which put related tags (determined by the user) into groups. This can be especially helpful to libraries because it allows librarians to create tag bundles to reflect different subject headings or topics their library users may want to learn more about.

Umpqua Community College library utilizes Delicious to collect resources related to a variety of topics. UCC does not utilize tag bundles, but they do have a tagroll and linkroll displayed on the homepage of their library. Unlike UCC, Chattahoochee Technical College Library does utilize 26 specific Tag Bundles to organize their resource from subjects ranging from allied health, to history, to welding. Users on the CTC Library website are connected directly to the Delicious account when they click on the CTC recommended websites link located on the library’s Research Help page.


Diigo is quite similar to Delicious, but also differs in some key features. Unlike Delicious, Diigo allows users to highlight text and write comments on web-based resources (Trexler, 2007). This information can be retrieved at a later date by that user or from other users who select that bookmark. While Delicious tackles the issue of tag management through Tag Bundles, Diigo has a system of user customized Lists (similar to folders) for bookmark organization. When a resource is bookmarked, the Diigo user can select one or more of their Lists to place the bookmark. Diigo List system does not require bookmarks to have tags in common. The Harvard Law School Library utilizes Diigo to bookmark items from their Online Archival Search Information System(Oasis). They have created three lists including “HLS Professors”, “Judges”, and “U.S. Government Agencies”.


Connotea is an open-source social bookmarking website. According to Connotea, it was “specially designed for scientists and clinicians” although other areas of academics are utilizing the service. A feature that is unlike most social bookmarking sites is Connotea’s ability to auto-discover bibliographic metadata like the journal title, volume, issue number, publisher, publication date, and authors of bookmarked articles (Lund, Hammond, Flack, & Hannay, 2005). This function does not work with every online resource, but through select sites including:

  • PubMed
  • PubMed Central
  • Science
  • PloS
  • BioMed Central
  • Supported EPrints repositories
  • Supported Highwire Press publications
  • Blackwell Synergy
  • Wiley Interscience
  • Scitation
  • Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System
  • Amazon
  • HubMed
  • D-Lib Magazine

While the current list is limited in relation to all the online resources available, the number of sites is growing (Lund et al., 2005).

Duke University Libraries is an example of an institution utilizing Connotea. Subject librarian Christof Galli collects resources about his Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies specialization for students and faculty and bookmarks them in Connotea. To further enhance the use of Connotea by students, Duke University Libraries provides an OpenURL resolution service2 for students to link to their Connotea accounts. By going through the Advanced Settings in Connotea, users can enter the OpenURL resolver location of their libraries so that citations within the user’s Connotea account can be linked to resources within Duke University Libraries’ online resources.

Penn Tags

The University of Pennsylvania Libraries created their own social bookmarking site called PennTags. This service is exclusively for the university staff and students and requires a PennKey ID login to add bookmarks. Items cataloged with the Penn Libraries can be added to a user’s PennTags by choosing the item’s record and then clicking on the “Add to Penn Tags” link on the bottom of the page (Larissah, 2007). University of Pennsylvania reference librarians have used the PennTags system to create on-demand resource guides and then send the URL of the guide to the library user for later access (Engard, 2007).

Interview with UCF Librarian Athena Hoeppner

The University of Central Florida Libraries utilizes Delicious to collect web resources for their library users. In an interview conducted via email April 15, 2010, librarian Athena Hoeppner revealed some insight into using social bookmarking in her academic library:

Who organizes and updates the bookmarks? About how much time does it require to maintain the site?

“The site was initiated by me , and shortly after, Aysegul [Kapucu] joined in the effort. Any UCF Librarian can add and maintain the links. There is no systematic effort to maintain the links at this time.”

Were there any difficulties with finding appropriate resources to bookmark?

“No. The site started with links to UCF database. That’s over 300 ready made resources to bookmark. 😉 Since then, librarians add links as they see fit. Many of the links are created during student research consultations and are specifically for the student.”

How do you promote your Delicious account to library users?

We mention it at the reference desk. Early on, it was also mentioned in Library Instruction.

What challenges or obstacles have you faced in using Delicious?

“Maintaining links to over 300 library resources. I need change all those links to use our PURLs3, but it is a time consuming task.”

Have you encountered any limitations or constraints with social bookmarking or Delicious in particular?

“I’m sure there are many limitations, but we were not trying to push the envelop of social networking. Mostly, we wanted an additional repository for our links that could be accessed when our server is down.”

What kinds of feedback have you received from faculty and students?

“Students at the reference desk, for whom delicious bookmarks are made, are happy with it. Very few students or faculty seem to know what delicious is until we introduce it to them. So, generally, they react in a positive but reserved way.”

Drawbacks of Social Bookmarking

In theory, social bookmarking sounds like a great idea for academic institutions including libraries. You can guide students to the “right” kind of websites and online resources for free. This information can be accessed by anyone with an Internet connection. But the reality is, most of the social bookmarking sites setup by libraries are not updated regularly and fall into disuse. Why? One reason could be that the library staff that began the bookmarking project has become uninterested over time. Also, the library person who managed the project could have left the organization leaving no one able or willing to manage the site. As mentioned in the interview with Athena Hoeppner, maintaining all the links in a social bookmarking account is challenging and time-consuming work. This could lead to disuse of the site overtime. Another downside to social bookmarking is that not all users are educated on the benefits of using tags for finding resources and may be unfamiliar with this type of organization. One way to combat this problem is to use linkrolls to keep library patrons on the library’s home site where users will not know they are utilizing a third-party service.


Social bookmarking is a revolutionary way to share recommended web resources between the library and patron. However, committing an institution to maintaining a bookmarking site can be problematic if the sites are not maintained or promoted. The bookmarking sites need to be added to regularly and checked for broken links and outdated resource. Also, no matter how good the resources are or how well those resources are organized, if the service is not promoted to library users it will not be used. Ms. Hoeppner mentioned that most library users were unfamiliar with Delicious but reacted in a “positive but reserved” way when informed. Users need to be educated on the location of social bookmarks and what those resources can do for them. If social bookmarking is used to its fullest extent, libraries of all types can utilize this easily-accessible service to meet the needs of library users.


  1. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) are used to design the format and style (colors, font type, font style, borders, etc.) of websites.
  2. OpenURL resolution services are provided by institutions to allow users to link to web-based resources, usually database articles, which the institution provides or subscribes too. (Apps & MacIntyre, 2006)
  3. According to OCLC, “PURLs (Persistent Uniform Resource Locators) are Web addresses that act as permanent identifiers in the face of a dynamic and changing Web infrastructure…”


Alvini, J. (2009, November 27). List of social bookmarking sites. Retrieved from

Apps, A., & MacIntyre, R. (2006, April). Why OpenUrl?. D-Lib Magazine, 12(5), Retrieved from

Connotea: frequently asked questions. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Darby, A., & Gilmour, R. (2009). Adding delicious data to your library website. Information Technology and Libraries, 28(2).

Engard, N.C. (2007, April 19). What I learned today…PennTags. Message posted to

Etches-Johnson, A. (2006). The brave new world of social bookmarking: everything you always wanted to know but were too afraid to ask. Feliciter, 52(2), 56-58.

Gilmour, R., & Stickland, J. (2009). Social bookmarking for library services: Bibliographic access through Delicious. College & Research Libraries News, 70(4), 234-237.

Green, C. (2010). Tag! You’re it! Experiencing at your library—introduction to social bookmarking. Kentucky Libraries, 74(1), 04-08.

Hammond, T., Hannay, T., Lund, B., & Scott, J. (2005, April). Social bookmarking tools (I). D-Lib Magazine, 11(4), Retrieved from

Hargadon, S. (2007). Best of social bookmarking. School Library Journal, 53(12), 20.

Larissah. (2007, December 6). Penntags: University of Pennsylvania public library. Message posted to

Lund, B., Hammond, T., Flack, M., & Hannay, T. (2005, April). Social bookmarking tools (II). D-Lib Magazine, 11(4), Retrieved from

Pack, T. (2007). A way to use bookmarks. Information Today, 24(4), 36-37.

Taylor, Arlene, & Joudrey, Daniel. (2009). The Organization of information. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited Inc.

Trexler, S. (2007). The best of social bookmarking: Diigo. Information Searcher, 17(3), 34-36.

Wal, A.C. (2007, June 4). libraries – September 27, 2008. Message posted to


  • Miami Dade College Library Catalog – MDC gives users an easy way to add content to the users’ social media accounts through favicons in the library’s online catalog.

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