Using Hashtags to Teach Subject Headings

CaptureOne of the hardest concepts, that I have found, for students to grasp and actually utilize are subject headings. Because students don’t regularly employ them in their day to day life they tend to be cast aside for a comfortable natural language search technique. I show students how useful subject headings can be when searching in the library’s catalog and throughout various databases, but they still don’t use them when it comes to conducting research on their own. While mulling around ideas of how to teach this concept in a more efficient manner, a little light bulb went off in my head…hashtags! Hashtags are a concept that students already understand and implement and are a great way to teach about subject headings. Here are a few exercises that I have come up with:

  1. Objective: Show how hashtags and subject headings can help one find more information on a specific topic
    • Example: Click on a trending hashtag on twitter (located in the left column) and explore the various tweets on that topic.
    • Take that same topic and search it in a database.
      • Show the database subject heading for that specific topic and click on it to show the database resources on that topic.
    • Exercise: Have the students pick a hashtag of their choice and list the top 3 Twitter/Pinterest/Facebook results for that hashtag.
      • Have them use that same hashtag and search it in a few library databases and find the most relevant subject heading. Then have them expand/click on the subject heading and list the top 3 results they get in each database.
  2. Objective: Show how hashtags about the same subject but with different lettering can result in a different (and limited) set of results
    • Example: #napomo, #natpomo, #natpoetrymonth, #nationalpoetrymonth
    • All of the hashtags above are about National Poetry Month but they all lead to a different set of results!
    • You could then introduce how subject headings work and discuss that through the use of a “controlled vocabulary” subject headings are required to be worded in a specific way so the researcher will have a more comprehensive list of results.
    • Exercise: Have students come up with their own controlled vocabulary for hashtags. You could also have them explain why they used each hashtag (ex: shorter lettering makes it more conducive for Twitter use)

These are just a few ideas, but I think they could be really useful. Since students already understand the concept of hashtags this takes a lot of the “lecture” part out and allows more focus on activities and engagement.

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3 thoughts on “Using Hashtags to Teach Subject Headings

  1. #good_idea!

    I’ve been much more successful surveying the literature for research that has already been done with subject headings, definitely more people need to know.
    -John

    • Good point Tracy. I think most students on the undergraduate level are aware what hashtags are. It might help for the librarians teaching IL courses to become more familiar with them in order to properly teach them. But since hashtags are metadata tags (which most librarians are familiar with) I don’t think it would take that long to understand them. For the students who don’t know what they are it might help to do a hashtag 101 in the beginning of class.

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