Geotagging, a critical skill for librarians?

January 31, 2008 § 1 Comment

I do not totally agree with the old adage that pops up on library blogs from time to time, the one about the Internet being like a library where the books are all strewn about the floor… Mainly because it’s the only time I see the verb “to strew” being used in a sentence (for some odd reason, it makes me think back to my early broke librarian years in NYC when “to strew” meant opening a can of Dinty Moore, ick!)…

Anyway, many librarians have probably read with interest the article “How YOU Can Make the Web More Structured” from ReadWriteWeb (found via ReadBurner). Basically, it’s about how to make the Internet a little less bestrewn (wow, my spell check confirms that as a real word). This section is most relevant here:

location: Location is becoming increasingly more important as well. With GPS and widely available Internet access we are able to easily let people know where we are and are able to take advantage of local services. If the article or a post is related to a specific location there is a conventional way of annotating it. The technical term for annotating content with location information is Geotagging. It generally means placing a pair of latitude and longtitude coordinates. A more relaxed form would be specifying country/region/city and is described in detail by the Geo microformat specification. While specifying exact position coordinates may be difficult, even something as simple as the geo header New York, NY would be very helpful.

Associating, linking, and connecting online content with specific locations, aka geotagging, is a key driver of the local web. Information that is relevant to specific localities (cities, towns, communities, neighborhoods, blocks) is um… “strewn” all over the Internet. And until geotagging becomes more automated, or at least easier (how many people know their latitude and longitude), the identification of local information will require much human effort.

I believe that librarians can help the local effort and should become adept at identifying local information — aggregating it, organizing it, and helping disseminate it. This would support the libraries mission to serve its community and plays into a key strength of librarians as organizers of information.

Many libraries are already involved in some great community information activities. But local is, if not hot, pretty darn warm right now — lots of new tools are being developed and many big names are investing money in it. Librarians can help themselves by staying up-to-date with the emerging local web, which includes things like Google Maps, Yahoo Local, EveryBlock, Outside,in, City-Data, Topix, local online communities, the local online news media, local blogs, maps, photos from Flickr, local government and demographic data, local directories, local events, local history, genealogy… and much more!

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