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Library of Congress taps public knowledge to cure info overload

Every organization has its share of challenges. But one challenge shared by many is this: Lots of information, little context to give it meaning. It's a case of information overload.

It's often caused by using a shared network drive to store and organize content-- the junk drawer of the information age, as we fondly call it. But it looks like the Library of Congress has found a cure.

Just over a year ago, the Library of Congress and Flickr partnered to launch a pilot project called
The Commons on Flickr. The library chose about 3,500 archived photos from its more popular collections to show on Flickr. The public was then invited to post comments and tags on the photos to describe the scenes, people, dates, etc.

The goal was twofold. Increase exposure of some of the most interesting historical content located in civic institutions around the world. And harness knowledge about these photos to make them richer and easier to find.

This recent New York Times article updates us on the project, and reports it is a resounding success. In one case, a photo originally titled “Street in industrial town in Massachusetts” had the city, street, and business owners correctly identified through comments. This is just one of many more examples.

Library of Congress staff periodically review the comments and fact check the information provided by users. But still, one of the most surprising elements the Library has found is how little time is required by this project.

No staff are dedicated to it full time. Ongoing maintenance takes just one hour a week. You can find more details about the Library of Congress’s experience on its blog.

The organization's use of tags and comments shows how you can involve your community, which is often underutilized, to collect valuable information. It only takes a few active members posting comments to multiply the benefit provided by the library and capture information that would otherwise be lost.

If all of this sounds like social knowledge networks, you're correct. This is exactly what happens in a SKN. It gives users access to tools to move beyond passively consuming information, and actively contribute content and knowledge.

In fact, the Library of Congress's partnership with Flickr shows that social knowledge network technology is not foreign to the industry. SKNs are rooted in tools we are already understand, use, and benefit from. SKN platforms simply design and package these tools to work in enterprise settings.

That makes it easier to transition to SKNs, and begin benefitting from them. And it looks like the Library of Congress is well on its way to using SKN technologies and the wisdom of the community in the library.

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