Statement of Competency 5
Competency 5: Design, query, and evaluate information retrieval systems.
The work of information professionals includes the collection, organization, management, and preservation of information, as well as connecting information seekers with the information they require. Librarians need to design, query, and evaluate information retrieval systems. In order to carry out this work, a thorough understanding of information retrieval systems is fundamental. Therefore, these skills are essential in developing the expertise necessary to serve effectively in the library and information profession.
Definitions and importance to the information profession
“An information retrieval system is designed to retrieve the documents or information required by the user community” (Chowdhury, 2010, p. 6). It links the analysis, organization and storage of information to the processes of search and retrieval (Chowdhury, 2010, pp. 7-8). In order to serve the information needs of their organizations as well as their patrons, information professionals should know how to design an effective, user-centered information retrieval system. This requires an understanding of the organization and processing of information, which includes bibliographic formats, cataloguing, metadata, classification, indexing, and vocabulary control (Chowdhury, 2010, p. 12). However, Kuhlthau (2004) points out that “expertly organized library collections, even the most advanced digital collections, may remain untouched without proper linkage to users’ problems and processes” (p. 1). Information professionals should therefore consider “the fundamental principles of designing for people: (1) provide a good conceptual model and (2) make things visible” (Norman, 1988, p.13). The ability to design an information retrieval system is a crucial skill a librarian, who must provide patrons with access to the information they are seeking.
Queries are information needs expressed by users to information retrieval systems. “When they put forward their requirement to the system, the latter should be able to provide the necessary bibliographic references of those documents containing the required information” (Chowdhury, 2010, p. 3). However, “often users cannot express their information needs in the form of queries” (p. 5). In these situations, information professionals can assist by mediating the interaction between users and information retrieval systems. Therefore, information professionals must know how to structure queries. Posing an effective query depends on the features of the system. Information professionals must understand the differences between primary and intermediary information retrieval systems, and know how to structure queries that maximize the strengths of each. As a librarian, it is important that I have a firm grasp of how to query information retrieval systems to locate the information I need, in addition to assisting patrons.
Information professionals are often required to subscribe to databases that fulfill the needs of their patrons and/or their organizations. Librarians also need to determine which databases suit their own information needs. In order to make wise and useful choices, information professionals should to evaluate various options. According to Lancaster (1971), the worth of an information retrieval system can be judged by considering how well and how efficiently the system satisfies its objectives, and whether the system justifies its existence (Chowdhury, 2010, p. 281). One way to evaluate an information retrieval system is by applying Norman’s concepts of good design: affordance, constraint, mapping, natural mapping, conceptual or mental models, and the paradox of technology (Norman, 1988). In my profession as a librarian, it is important to evaluate various information retrieval systems. This skill allows me to choose appropriate sources for my needs as well as those of the patrons I serve.
My understanding of Competency 5 is based on my coursework in INFO 202 and INFO 210 of the MLIS program. INFO 202: Information Retrieval System Design covered the design, querying and evaluation of information retrieval systems. The course was an introduction to the representation, organization, and management of information. I learned about different types of information retrieval systems, their strengths and weaknesses, and how best to structure queries for various systems. As a member of a group, I designed and created a working database using WebData Pro, a web-based database management and information retrieval system. I also participated in a group project to evaluate RefWorks, an information retrieval system. INFO 210: Reference and Information Services dealt with how information professionals answer reference questions, and gave me hands-on experience with some useful tools of the trade. I studied the necessary interpersonal skills, as well as a wide range of resources and search strategies.
The following evidence is submitted to satisfy Competency 5:
- Querying Primary and intermediary information retrieval systems, an assignment from INFO 202 (Information Retrieval System Design)
- Building awareness of classification: Describe a collection of objects, a group project from INFO 202 (Information Retrieval System Design)
- Describe/build a database for a collection, a group project from INFO 202 (Information Retrieval System Design)
- Evaluation of an information retrieval system, a group project from INFO 202 (Information Retrieval System Design)
- Searching various information resources, an assignment from INFO 210 (Reference and Information Services)
In this exercise, I chose to explore the topic of Ethics, values, and foundational principles of library and information professionals and their role in the promotion of intellectual freedom. I formed ten queries surrounding my topic in Google Scholar, an intermediary information retrieval system, and ten queries in Library Literature & Information Science Full Text (LISTA), a primary information retrieval system. The assignment taught me how to structure effective queries for each system, utilizing the LISTA thesaurus and the Google Scholar search operators. I gained an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of both types of systems. This exercise demonstrates my ability to query information retrieval systems by presenting the queries I formulated for each system and the number of results obtained from those queries. My analysis of the strengths and weakness of each system is evidence that I understand how to query and evaluate information retrieval systems.
INFO 202 Building awareness of classification: Describe a collection of objects, Part 1
As a participant of a three-member group, I used course readings to define classification, systems of classification, and standards, to discuss the differences between classifications systems and standards, and to explain why designers of information retrieval systems should take users into account. Our group described common attributes in a collection of 15 pillows. We then considered the information needs of a user group who might be interested in our collection. An analysis of users and likely user queries helped us to focus on the purpose of a database for our collection. The project led me through the early stages of designing a database, teaching me how to represent each object in a collection, differentiate one entity from another, as well as support user needs. This project provides evidence of my understanding of the design component of Competency 5.
INFO 202 Describe/ build a database for a collection, Part 2
Along with two other group members, I designed and built a database in WebData Pro for the 15 objects in our collection from Part 1 of the project. Part 2 entailed outlining the unit of description and developing a field-by-field record structure. The group described the fields to be included, the type of data that should be used to represent each field, and why each field was necessary. We then established rules concerning content and structure for cataloging each field. Finally, using our record structure and cataloging rules, we built the database in WebData Pro. Through first-hand experience, I became familiar with the process of creating a database. I applied my knowledge gained through course readings to designing a useful, working database for objects in a real collection. This project provides evidence of my understanding of how to design an information retrieval system.
As part of a group of three, I evaluated four features of the bibliography function of RefWorks, an information retrieval system. We used Norman’s (1999) concepts of affordance, constraint, mapping, natural mapping, conceptual and mental models, and the paradox of technology to frame our evaluation. Our group presented theoretically guided claims about the user experience with the RefWorks interface. I learned how to conduct a meaningful evaluation of an information retrieval system based on modern theories regarding effective design and usability. This assignment demonstrates my understanding of evaluating information retrieval systems.
This assignment demonstrates my ability to use different searching functions, strategies, and tactics for locating relevant information. In each exercise, I employed strategies to locate information according to the capabilities of the various resources. This evidence substantiates my understanding of a range of search techniques when mining information retrieval systems for relevant information.
As modern society advances steadily toward a future in which information is its most valuable commodity, the organization, management, and preservation of information, in addition to the provision of access to information, are increasingly crucial. The work of information professionals is therefore becoming progressively more important. In my career as a librarian, the abilities to design, query and evaluate information retrieval systems are essential tools that enable me to serve my organization and its patrons. In INFO 202 I learned how to use different types of databases, how to create my own database, and how to conduct an evaluation of a system. These skills are transferable to new contexts, in which I am required to interact and mediate interactions with information retrieval systems, design information retrieval systems, and choose systems that are appropriate for various circumstances and user groups. In INFO 210 I studied a wide range of resources, along with tactics for locating relevant information depending on the functionality of the system. The experience that I have gained in pursuing an understanding of Competency 5 has prepared me for my work as a librarian.
Chowdhury, G. C. (2010). Introduction to modern information retrieval (3rd ed.). New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.
Kuhlthau, C. C. (2004). The Constructive Process in Library and Information Science Theory. In Seeking meaning: a process approach to library and information services (2nd ed., pp. 1-12). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.
Norman, D. A. (1988). The Psychopathology of Everyday Things. In The Design of Everyday Things (pp. 1-33). New York: Doubleday.