Design, query, and evaluate information retrieval systems.

Component 1: Statement of Competency

Information retrieval is an art that has been mastered by librarians over time. The entire process of information retrieval is not just to find information, but to find relevant and credible resources from a wealth of information that would otherwise be unfathomable to process. With the increasing flood of technology in the world, librarians are required to be more tech savvy than ever. We are now not just keepers of information but we are the sorters and the designers. This means that librarians are no longer just finding information; we are designing the databases that house this information, developing the queries to find the resources and evaluating these mansions of information for quality. Who better to be in charge of this than those who know the information best?

Database design is no easy task, “Design work is some of the most interesting and challenging work that information professionals do. It requires in-depth knowledge of who will be using the system you design, and what their needs and abilities are” (Haycock & Sheldon, 2008, 114). When designing a database it is vital that a standard is created in how items are identified, the metadata, how the information is going to be stored so it can be found and retrieved when needed. The metadata includes the structure of the information that describes the resource, think of subject classification, MARC records, folksonomies and controlled vocabulary. Metadata does many different things, mainly providing identification information or access points for these resources; when designing the database you need to decide on what type of metadata you are going to include, this is developing your standard.

The success of your database design with rely on the breadth of your knowledge of your user group. If the designers do not incorporate the intended users within the design of their database they will severely limit the process of learning within the users. (Kulthau, 2004) Although librarians are the information professionals, we are often not the first person a user goes to when searching; usually we are the last resort.

When we design these databases we want to create user-friendly front end databases, “that allow users to satisfy their needs with a minimum of jargon, confusion, or technical knowledge” (Rubin, 2010, p284). With the introduction of search engine giants like Bing and Google that mimic human thought processes and make searching for information easier than ever it is important that databases keep up with front end and back end design otherwise they will lose the great race in information retrieval systems. As we think of our user group we must ask ourselves what are the demographics of our intended audience including age, gender, physical handicaps, motivation, attitude, level of education, and cognitive aptitude.  If we naively think our users are semi-educated proactive community members our design for information retrieval will not be successful. Although it may seem harsh we must think of the most problematic user group and design based on the characteristics they hold.

We have a design in process, we have standardized our metadata and developed our user group now it is essential that we evaluate the system. The best way to do this, as done by many companies today is to gather a group to beta test and report on their experience. First and foremost is evaluating the retrieval aspect of your database, how well does it retrieve relevant information? Haycock and Sheldon explain this is more frequently measured in two forms, recall and precision. Recall is how well the system does at retrieving all of the relevant documents and precision is how close it gets to retrieving only relevant documents. (Haycock & Sheldon, 2008) Just as with design, concrete knowledge of the user group and subject matter are important in evaluation as well. Understanding how your user will search on your database will show the effectiveness of its design beyond general use. For example a user may search for information on young children or they may want information on children ages 3-5 years old or maybe they want information on only infants. Understanding the possible ways in which the user may search the database will help structure your design and metadata to serve these purposes.

Justification of Evidence and Evidence:

My first piece of evidence is a piece I wrote in Libr202, [Description of a User Group]. I selected this piece of evidence to show my understanding of the importance of incorporating your user group into your database design. This piece provides a brief paragraph on what a user group and the importance of it as well as providing a breakdown of what the demographics are of the user group that would be searching the database I built for Libr202. Also included are a list of questions the user group may ask when approaching my database for searching, a list of attributes needed for the items in the database and a table that includes the metadata for the items in the database.

My second piece of evidence is an article on [Folksonomies, what are they]. I chose this piece of evidence for this competency to show another way of using metadata for your database design. A common form of subject based metadata is the use of the Library of Congress subject headings. Library 2.0 has moved into free form tagging or folksonomies without a hierarchy of terms. Free form tagging has taken a while to catch on, due to the lack of control librarians often fear the disorganization or ambiguity of these tags. The article talks about some of the benefits and drawbacks of using this form of metadata to organize resources.

My third piece of evidence is a [CriticalEvaluationLetterSS] that breaks down the database LexisNexis Academic. I chose this piece of evidence to show my understanding of evaluating a database and the components that are important to look at: retrieval relevance, quality of materials, and user experience. This letter address all components in a professional and academic manner.

Conclusion:

Databases are often misunderstood and highly underrated. Understanding the back end of a database will allow the front end user to more easily access the material they are searching for because they know the design structure. As we gain more access to information as the internet grows and open access material expands databases will become key in information retrieval. My knowledge of this information will give me a step up from the rest for I will not only be able to lend help in designing databases but I will be able to better serve my users.

References:

Haycock, K. and Sheldon, B. (2008). The portable MLIS: insights from the experts. Westport: Libraries Unlimited.

Rubin, R. E. (2010). Foundations of library and information science. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.

Kuhlthau, C. C. (2004). Seeking meaning: A process approach to library and information Services. Libraries Unlimited.

Evidence:

Description of a User Group

Folksonomies, what are they

CriticalEvaluationLetterSS

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