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Oct. 8th, 2005 @ 06:07 pm User-centered infomration seeking models, continued
Week four continues a study of user-centered information seeking models. I'll pick up on week five where I leave off below -- RAH

“Information retrieval” sounds formal and mechanistic, but it’s a process we undergo in any number of ways all day long. The obvious example from a library perspective is locating the correct source of information using online and text tools as well as consultation with librarians. But that process is rather formal; many of the information we gather is done much less formally. Say I’m on my way to work and can’t find my hat – what resources do I have to draw from? My own memory and that of my wife. Having burned away much of my short-term memory a quarter of a century ago my wife can be considered the better resource in this case. “Honey, have you seen my hat?” Of course it’s not that simple; I have lots of hats, and how is she to know to which I am referring?

“Which hat?” she might answer.
“Why, my Boston Red Sox hat,” I say.
“You have about a dozen of those. The old weather-beaten one?”
“No, the 2004 World Series one.”
“You have two of those – the one with the red “B” or the one that says Championship?”
“The second one. Championship.”
“It’s right there about four inches from your left elbow.”
“Right – thanks.”

That is a simple information-seeking process that engaged my wife’s memory, what is left of my memory, and about a dozen blue baseball hats. It may have taken 20 seconds to transpire and in the scope of things not very important. It’s not an interaction that would evoke a lot of debate or analysis.

Except from information scientists.

We’ve spent the last several weeks reading very astute analyses of all sorts of information-seeking behavior. Some of it is rather absorbing, some dense, and some is frankly reductive. One thing for sure, I’ll never think of IR the same way again. When reading these articles I’ve been bearing two things in mind: the reference interview and the possibility of writing the cognitive process into into algorithms that will allow digital tools to mediate the expressions.

The reference interview concerns me because my students are the human information resources in computing labs around campus. They exist to answer questions and help people use the software and hardware. Like clients in a reference room, lab users often don’t know quite what they are asking for when they ask for it, and my students need to tease it out of them, then point them to the right resources. Often this is done rather clumsily, in part because they are working without this theory and in part because we’re talking about 20-year olds. I can’t do much about age thing, but I can work to translate this theory into some concrete interview tools that will help my students help the clients.

The algorithm thing comes from my interest in digital libraries, search engines and the like. The only thing I’m convinced of right off is that I have a long, long way to go. Long way.

[segue to grad school meditations]

To be continued . . .
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punts, oxford