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Disrupting the meta-narrative: a little history of the management and retrieval of images

There has been considerable scholarly interest in recent years in historicising and critiquing information with reference to the metanarrative of modernity. Within this metanarrative, modern information management can be characterised as having a worldview that privileges facts and science, that assumes stability in textual meaning, and believes in the disinterested and objective authority of the professional indexer. Even before the age of distributed, networked digital information, information professionals acknowledged that the interpretation of images is a complex business in which meaning might not be stable or generally shared (e.g. Krause, 1988,), but it has been the Web that has allowed for the actualisation of user-orientated approaches such as tagging which disrupt the metanarrative. For some, tagging offers a utopian, ideal solution to the problems of size, distribution, geography, and the amateur publisher (Shirky, 2007), and, importantly, tagging allows for multi-voiced interpretation (Kroski, 2005, Mai, 2011). A more dystopian view of tagging might emphasise its chaotic nature and its potential to dilute accuracy, and indeed truth, but even then the concern is often focused on possible fixes.

This paper traces the history of cultural information management from the classic IR tools of the modern age, to the tagging and crowd-sourcing of the current networked, distributed information age. Beyond tagging and labelling, there has been interest recently in using story-telling as a framework through which descriptive tags might be harvested. Story-telling is a pervasive and generally pleasurable form of human communicative practice that offers a syntagmatic approach to user-based indexing input.

The paper concludes with an exploration of storytelling as a method to facilitate creativity in tagging while at the same time channelling and disciplining it (e.g. Leiberman et al, 2001, Trant, 2006, Rafferty and Albinfalah, 2014, Stvilia and Jorgensen, 2009).

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