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Design, query and evaluate information retrieval systems

Competency E

One of the roles of librarians and information professionals is to make information available to a set of users. With the huge amount of information available in the world, information retrieval systems are key in performing this role. Users must be able to retrieve relevant materials from an ever-growing pool of information sources. It is the role of the information professional to make certain that they are able to do this, either by designing, querying or evaluating the systems that are used to retrieve materials.

Information retrieval is defined as involving "finding some desired information in a store of information or a database" (Meadow, p.2). An information retrieval system, in most cases, is the computer system used to find information. Marchionini, calling it a search system, describes it as "a source that represents knowledge and provides tools and rules for accessing and using that knowledge" (Marchionini, p.38). It is essential that information professionals understand these systems and the rules that govern their behavior. Librarians must be able to query them effectively and evaluate them to determine if they are well designed. Information professionals also play a role in designing these systems.

The design of information retrieval systems is essential to its usefulness. If it is not designed well from an organizational perspective, meaning having the right search fields and data fields, users will not be able to retrieve the needed information. Also, whether a document’s full text is searchable or only specified fields can have drastic effects on user searches. If the interface is not designed well, this affects the user experience. Librarians, who are aware of the needs of their users and are familiar with the way users search for materials, are in an ideal position to direct the design of information retrieval systems.

Librarians must be able to successful query an information retrieval system in order to both retrieve information for patrons and to help users learn how to use the systems themselves. Every database has different rules by which information can be retrieved, so it is important for users to understand those rules if they hope to put together a successful query. For example, Dialog has very specific rules for querying its database that are difficult to master. Since the service is not free, it is important to be able to understand the information need and translate it into a query that the Dialog system can understand and return relevant results.

Librarians also must be able to evaluate these systems to determine if they are serving their users well. There are thousands of databases available to libraries these days, and librarians must be able to determine how well they work in order to make purchasing decisions for the library. Purchasing a database that does not retrieve good records or that users find difficult to use is not going to be a good investment for the library.

The following evidence demonstrates my ability to fulfill this competency of designing, querying and evaluating information retrieval systems.


Assignment 2: Subject Analysis: Part A: Database Design - LIBR 202 - Spring 2005
This assignment from LIBR 202 in Spring 2005 was to design a database for a particular user group. In this group project, we discuss the scope of the database, the searchable fields, the pre-coordinate and post-coordinate vocabularies that are used in the database and the data structure that is used to represent the documents in the database.

Metadata Schema for the DHLR Photography Database - LIBR 247 - Spring 2007 
This group assignment for LIBR 247 was also about designing a database, this time using metadata. In order to test the database design and the metadata schema that supports it, the design team outlined representative searches, and looked at other metadata schemas for ways to address the various needs of the users and for standard terms and practices. Throughout the database and the metadata schema design process our team asked ourselves many questions about how best to describe and format our data elements in order to ensure an efficient and effective retrieval process for our users.

Exercise 2 – LIBR 244 – Fall 2005
This exercise for LIBR 244 Online Searching demonstrates my ability to plan and complete queries in Dialog. I show that I am able to translate a patron’s reference question into a query using Dialog’s particular query structure. I also provide some evaluation of these searches, and why they were successful or not.


Marchionini, G. (1995). Information seeking in electronic environments. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.


Meadow, C. T., Boyce, B. R., & Kraft, D. H. (2000). Text and information retrieval systems. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

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