Design, query, and evaluate information retrieval systems.
Understanding and Applying
Information Retrieval Systems to Create Solutions
Section 1 of 4:
An Introduction to What Competency E Means to Me and to Library and Information Science
Definitions and Background Knowledge:
Information Retrieval Systems (IRS): “Information retrieval is the activity of finding material (usually documents) of an unstructured nature (usually text) from a large collection of documents, that satisfies an information need of the user. Any system designed to perform this kind of retrieval is called an Information Retrieval System” (Shukla, 2019, para.1). An example of IRS is web-based search engines, such as Google. Another definition for IRS that I find helpful is, “...a software program that deals with the organization, storage, retrieval and evaluation of information from document repositories, particularly textual information. The system assists users in finding the information they require but it does not explicitly return the answers of the questions” (Tutorials Point, n.d.).
Understanding “Design” in Relation to IRS: Information professionals “take an existing state of affairs, a problem, and transform it into a preferred state, a solution. Information professionals design websites, story hours, instructional materials, specialized collections of photographs, search engines, and corporate intranets” (Tucker, 2019, p. 1). The design of IRS requires decisions about what groups, subgroups, and uncategorizable information labels (or outliers) will or won't be included in the IRS. The designer’s goal is for the IRS’s users to be able to find the information and categories they need (Tucker, 2019). Another way to understand the design of IRS is through looking at what the designer must do: they must define the problem, understand the audience, organize documents and information so that users can easily find and use them, and understand how the IRS works (Tucker, 2019). Important principles to abide by when designing IRS can be broken down into the stages of: design, implement, evaluate, manage change, and communicate (Tucker, 2019).
Understanding “Query” in Relation to IRS: The word “query” means, “to ask questions of, especially with a desire for authoritative information” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). To effectively query an IRS, it is important that the user makes their search fit that specific IRS (Tucker, 2019). Different IRS use different retrieval and design strategies. A query that does not work well in one IRS may work perfectly in another. The better a user understands the design of the IRS they are using, the better queries they can perform, and the better results they will receive (Tucker, 2019).
Understanding “Evaluation” in Relation to IRS: When information professionals are evaluating an IRS, they are evaluating it’s design (Tucker, 2019). An acceptable end result of a user’s experience with an IRS would be to have easily found the information they needed. That end result is possible because the IRS was designed efficiently and correctly, utilizing exceptional organization practices and an understanding of the IRS’s users. All elements of the IRS’s design must be evaluated from beginning to end to ensure the IRS’s efficiency and practical application.
Why Competency E is Important to Me as a Professional:
I am a highly organized person. My propensity for organization manifests itself in different ways in my life. I have strategic bookmark folders in my web browser that are designated for APA Resources, Research Resources, and Specific Courses. I also have shortcuts to my email inbox and to visual CPR instructions. All of these items are located on a bookmarks bar that is visible and accessible on every webpage I have up. I do not have to search for important, helpful, or time-sensitive information: it is directly in front of me. This helps me feel prepared to tackle the projects I need to complete each day. I highly value organization and I use it to propel myself further professionally and personally. The understood value and practical application of organization is at the heart of Information Retrieval Systems.
I also value the ability to embrace a certain level of chaos. This ability shows adaptability, savviness, and a penchant for applying complex concepts in real world environments. I feel too much structure can often act as a crutch for being able to enjoyably and effectively function in real-world environments, which do not always fit into organized structures, nor does life. Information Retrieval Systems and their design also take this into account. IRS incorporate “outliers” or information that does not necessarily fit into a category, but that is still interesting or relevant. I enjoy seeing the concept of outliers being taken seriously and utilized in IRS design.
Why Competency E is Important to the Profession as a Whole:
The ability of information professionals to do their jobs is by and large determined by IRS. Reference librarians need to be able to search extensive databases, collections, and resources. The better the design of the databases, collections, and resources, the better results the librarian will find for their patrons. The better a librarian understands those IRS, the better they can utilize them to locate those results. A children’s librarian needs access to well-designed IRS to find new and exciting components for storytimes, or to find research and ideas to create their own new storytime elements. A professional researcher needs extensive access to and a high-level understanding of academic, medical, law-based, social-justice based, or other specialized databases and IRS to provide information relevant to their clients or employers. Having IRS that are designed intelligently, effectively, and are easy to use, elevates the effectiveness and value of the information professional.
What Competency in the Design, Query, and Evaluation of Information Retrieval Systems Looks Like to Me:
When I think of IRS that are designed effectively, I see IRS operating on the same principles of librarianship that the American Library Association has set forth for libraries. These ethics and values can be found on the ALA’s website. I see IRS being designed for inclusivity and acceptance. To me, that could manifest as most databases supporting open-access policies to information, as opposed to limiting access to specialized knowledge to only those who can pay high subscription prices. An ethical approach to IRS could manifest as libraries no longer utilizing The Dewey Decimal System to classify and organize their collections, as it classifies items using racist and sexist practices (Gattullo Marrocolla, 2019). I see intelligent and advanced IRS design which can perform highly effective queries using extensively different search strategies and terminology. The ability to access relevant and useful information should not be limited to those who study IRS or who practice it as a profession. While we as information professionals can act as a helpful guide to the information world, I would like to see advanced and extensive IRS that anyone can use effectively, regardless of familiarity with advanced IRS knowledge. The concept of access to information is at the heart of both librarianship and IRS. Applying ethical concepts to that access is something libraries strive to provide. I would like to see more IRS actively work to do the same.
Section 2 of 4:
The Discussion of My Evidence
I created an example database (hereto referred to as “Evidence A”) in WebData Pro to implement a data structure.
How and Why I Created Evidence A:
In my “Information 202: Information Retrieval System Design” course, we were required to use WebData Pro to build databases and demonstrate the concepts of IRS design, query, and evaluation. WebData Pro will unfortunately no longer be accessible after 10/2021. To save my work, I have created a video walkthrough of my administrator page of WebData Pro while I can still access it. The video shows the options, tables, design strategies, query implementation, trial and error, as well as evaluative final products based on these elements in my database.
The Process of Creating Evidence A:
In the process of creating Evidence A, I built a simple database to search for types of shoes. I added records of individual shoes into the database, and included information on each shoe such as color, size, brand, and type of shoe. Each of those specific pieces of information about the show could be used to search the database. For example, a query could be performed for all boots, or for all brown shoes. When working to create this database, I modified and deleted records numerous times to ensure that the categories and specific descriptors of the shoes lined up with how I wanted to design my search page. When designing this IRS, I created the search page to utilize multiple query input methods. For instance, the “Type” and “Brand” search boxes allow the user to enter text in freeform. These freeform text boxes also allow users to query using multi-value fields, meaning that they can query several different descriptors in the same box, such as “boot, tennis shoe” to retrieve a larger set of results. In this databases’ design I also incorporated the ability for users to query using the Boolean search operators AND, OR, NOT. This means the user could query by typing “boot AND tennis shoe AND slipper” into the “Type” search box. The “Color” and “Size” query options allow the user to select an option I pre-populated from a drop down menu. I practiced adding users to my database by adding the instructor. In respect to privacy, I do not include that information (which contains personal emails and names) in the video walkthrough of my database.
Where Evidence A Covers Design of Information Retrieval Systems:
The IRS I created, a database of shoes, incorporates the concepts and principles of IRS design in many ways. I addressed a problem (the organization of my shoes) and transformed it into a query-ready database to keep track of the shoes I owned. The audience for the database was both myself and my professor. Knowing my audience, I designed the IRS for the course specifications and for how I think about and organize my own shoes. I decided what groups, subgroups, and outliers to include or not include in my IRS. The included groups were: type, brand, color, and size of shoe. I also decided to include all of the information for each of those four groups in all three records of shoes I entered into the IRS. I could have included records of shoes that were outliers, such as a shoe that had no color listed in the database, or was entered with multiple colors, but I chose to keep this example database streamlined for the assignment.
I also organized this IRS so that different search strategies could be used. If I can’t remember what type of shoe I categorized my New Balance shoes as, I can type in “New Balance” in the Brand search box and the shoe will display in the query results as a “tennis shoe”. If I am searching for green shoes, I can look at the drop down menu on the color search box and see that there are no green shoes in this database.
Where Evidence A Covers Query of Information Retrieval Systems:
I incorporated the concepts and principles of IRS querying into Evidence A by designing the IRS to how I would want to search for my shoes. I designed Evidence A to use different data retrieval strategies, such as drop down menus, freeform text boxes, and Boolean operator query options. Each of the four query groups I built into the search page (type, brand, color, and size of shoe) was a relevant descriptor of my shoes that I would want to search for them by. For instance, if I wanted to go hiking, I would query for “boot”. If I wanted to lounge around the house, I would query for “slipper”. I would not search for my shoes using descriptors like “country shoe was made in” or “store I bought shoe at”, as those would not be helpful ways for me to find the shoe I needed. Each of the three shoe records in the database contain information relating to each of the four query categories. This organizational strategy allows a better end result for the query.
Where Evidence A Covers Evaluation of Information Retrieval Systems:
Evidence A demonstrates thorough evaluation of the IRS design in that it took me numerous attempts to create a searchable database that functioned efficiently. On my first attempt, I created a database with three records, but I failed to implement a search page that correlated with those three records, i.e. there was no way to know what was in the database in order to conduct a query. When I evaluated my IRS by testing the search capabilities, I noted that it did not function how it needed to, I examined why, and I went back in to improve the IRS design for better functionality. In my second attempt, I entered the four query categories (type, brand, color, and size of shoe) but I failed to enter the correlating descriptive information into the three records (which shoes were brown, black, New Balance, size 8, etc.) When I again evaluated my IRS by trying to perform a query, I noted that there were no results at all regardless of the query strategy used. I went back in to change the design so that it functioned more effectively. My third attempt yielded an IRS that had detailed records whose descriptors matched the available and working query options, and provided the correct query results. My continuous evaluations of the evolving stages of the IRS encompassed all elements of the design, including organization, correct correlation strategies, and implementation.
Evidence B demonstrates my ability to research a user group/audience, apply query strategies, and turn information about an IRS into a structured teaching tool. I chose a specific user group, an existing IRS appropriate for that user group, and then I created a training guide on the IRS for that user group. I also created a presentation about the process.
How and Why I Created Evidence B:
For my final project in my “Information 244: Online Searching” course, I chose an existing IRS and a user audience, then I created a teaching guide to assist those users in understanding, querying, and best-utilizing that IRS.
The Process of Creating Evidence B:
The target user/searcher audience I chose was civil rights activists in the U.S. who want to bolster their work with historical data, or to fact check information. The existing Information Retrieval Systems I chose was an online database of queryable text documents, photographs, and varying media formats of documentation. This IRS is the Civil Rights Digital Library database, which is available to all users online. I created my teaching-guide in the form of a LibGuide, titled “Using the Civil Rights Digital Library database”. In my LibGuide, I divide my IRS assistance into three sections: Home, Search Strategies, and Fact Checking. In the Home section, I cover topics such as what the Civil Rights Digital Library database is, how to access it, and what topics it covers. In the Search Strategies section, I cover how to search by location, how to utilize Boolean operators in searches, how to browse for information, how to do keyword searches, and how to browse indexes in the database. In the Fact Checking section, I cover tools to verify specific information, and other available resources to help fact check information. I then created a presentation about my LibGuide, describing my target audience, my reasons for creating the guide, my role, and my implementation and testing plan.
Where Evidence B Covers Design of Information Retrieval Systems:
Evidence B shows an awareness of the design principles of IRS in its understanding of a user audience, an IRS that would be useful to that audience, and the practical application of the IRS’s query results to the user audience. The LibGuide demonstrates an awareness of the design principles of IRS through its organizational structure. This structure provides three separate pages explaining how to best utilize the IRS. The ‘Home’ page of the LibGuide provides an overview of what the IRS is, a list of the broader topics the IRS covers, and how to access the IRS. The ‘Search Strategies’ page explains how to use different query methods in the IRS, such as by location, Boolean operators, keywords, or topic. The ‘Fact Checking’ page explains how to use the IRS to fact-check information by performing specific queries, general search strategies, and a list of additional databases and IRS to use for further verification of information, such as Google Scholar and The National Archives. The presentation component of Evidence B shows an awareness of the design principles of IRS through a candid examination of my own role as the LibGuide creator, as a grad student, and as someone who advocates for civil rights issues. This examination of my role provides relevant information as to my understanding of civil rights information, database usage, and information science.
Where Evidence B Covers Query of Information Retrieval Systems:
The LibGuide demonstrates an awareness of IRS querying strategies by providing an entire page of suggestions and easy-to-understand explanations of different search strategies that work well in the Civil Rights Digital Library (CRDL) database. The organization of the Civil Rights Digital Library database is incredibly useful to users. My LibGuide provides instructions to help users query the IRS by a location, by using Boolean operators, by browsing information by topic, how to browse the IRS by indexes, or by performing a keyword search. These different search strategies can also be combined for enhanced, broader or narrower query results. The presentation component of Evidence B shows an awareness of querying an IRS by connecting the extensive relevant information within the Civil Rights Digital Library database to the current movement for racial justice in the U.S., to how that database can be queried to support that movement.
Where Evidence B Covers Evaluation of Information Retrieval Systems:
The LibGuide demonstrates an awareness of evaluating an IRS by modeling itself into three sections specifically useful to that IRS. The design of the LibGuide focuses on helping users of the CRDL to retrieve the best query results for their needs. The CRDL allows users to search by index. This is a very useful, though not as common, feature. My LibGuide explains to users how to search the CRDL by index and demonstrates why this is a useful tool. The presentation component of Evidence B shows an awareness of evaluating an IRS by providing information on my own implementation and testing plan for creating an LIS teaching tool. I explained my design strategy, and that I wanted the LibGuide to be straightforward and uncluttered. The presentation also explains that I wanted the LibGuide to have a logical flow of information, as well as interesting examples throughout. The continuous evaluative process I used when creating my LibGuide and presentation allowed the two finished products to provide relevant and useful information to a relevant audience desiring to practically apply their query results.
Section 3 of 4:
How Creating the Evidence Helped Me Gain Expertise in Competency E
How Creating Evidence A Helped Me Gain Competency in the Area of IRS:
My database in WebData Pro demonstrates my ability to apply the concepts of information system design, query, and evaluation. Using the materials, lectures, and assignments I had been provided with in my course, I was able to apply those concepts in the form of a queryable database containing records of specific items. I was able to work though the trial and error evaluative process until I had designed an IRS that was fully functioning.
How Creating Evidence A Changed My Way of Thinking on Competency E:
IRS, databases, and behind-the scenes tech have always seemed like complicated and intimidating knowledge bases to me. I have my undergrad in creative writing. I can write stories and play with words and craft fiction all day. Yet “metadata”, “records”, and “building databases” have seemed like alien practices. Working in WebData Pro, though intimidating, showed me that I could think about these unfamiliar concepts in a familiar and useful way. When I write short stories, I have pages and pages of story notes for myself. Yet if I am creating a database, it could be of the kind of shoes my characters all have in the story. I can use the database as a fiction writing tool to make sure all my characters have different shows, or to help me remember who has what shoes. This framework for thinking about IRS was very helpful in understanding its structures.
Why I Chose to Feature Evidence A and How Evidence A Shows Competency:
Evidence A showcases an assignment in which I had to utilize a highly tech-oriented program (WebData Pro) that I had no prior knowledge of and initially found very confusing. Yet I was able to learn the program and complete the assignment, meeting every single criteria and creating a functional IRS from scratch. This shows a high level of competency in IRS design, query, and evaluation.
How Creating Evidence B Helped Me Gain Competency in the Area of IRS:
In the process of creating both a guide and a presentation, I had to evaluate and understand how the IRS in question worked. Going into the IRS and learning how to best navigate it, apply my queries to its design (such as the ability to use index searches) and decide what strategies worked best allowed me to then translate that knowledge into a helpful user-guide.
How Creating Evidence B Changed My Way of Thinking on Competency E:
I enjoyed being able to use the IRS skills I have acquired in ways that are applicable to causes I am passionate about. To me, IRS design, query, and evaluation can seem like a dry concept. Yet I was able to take that concept and use it in a way that could assist and support those working to advance civil rights in the U.S. The ability to translate those IRS skills into a social justice oriented project meant a lot to me.
Why I Chose to Feature Evidence B and How Evidence B Shows Competency:
To be able to teach a concept requires a multifaceted and thorough understanding of that concept. The ability to teach others how to make IRS best work for them demonstrates a thorough understanding of the design, query-effectiveness, and evaluation of IRS. My LibGuide and presentation demonstrate that I was able to understand the design, query, and evaluation of the IRS and then work backwards with that knowledge to create an IRS teaching tool.
Coursework That Has Prepared Me for Designing, Querying, and Evaluating Information Retrieval Systems:
In my “Information 202: Information Retrieval System Design” course, I worked to understand what went into the records of IRS and how that could work with or against different query strategies. I also learned about the rules applied to records, entries, and search strategies in IRS and how to create those rules. In my “Information 244: Online Searching” course, I completed several exercises designed to create a strong understanding of different search strategies and taxonomic organizational structures.
How I Have Changed From the Person I Was Before These Courses, to the Person After, to the Person I Am Now:
I have always understood that we as humans tend to perceive the world around us by sorting things into categories. This can help us, but can also hinder us at times. Learning more about the organizational structures of IRS helped me to look at the world around me differently. I looked at how everything somehow can be broken down into categories. Even our language is structured around sorting things into categories. What is a noun? It is a person, place, or thing. What are vowels? They are a set of letters: a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y. Books are organized into genres (mystery, romance, sci-fi/fantasy). A globe can be organized into continents, continents into countries, a country into states, states into counties, and counties into neighborhoods. We as humans tend to organize to better understand. After taking these courses and completing these projects, I have a better understanding of how the beneficial elements of organization can be divided into much smaller parts.
What I Have Learned:
What I learned while taking these courses and completing these projects was that at their core, Information Retrieval Systems are simply a manifestation of organizational structures. It helps me to circle back to that idea whenever I feel overwhelmed by technical terms, concepts, or an overabundance of information. Designing and evaluating IRS means diving deeply into the smallest, most detailed, components of these categories. Using metadata, tags, taxonomic structures, and research on the IRS’s audience are highly detailed elements of making an IRS’s organizational structure manifest in the desired way.
Section 4 of 4:
How the Knowledge I Have Gained Will Influence Me in the Future, as an Information Professional
What I Bring to the Position, in Terms of Competency E:
I bring a very resourceful way of thinking about solutions to the table. I enjoy being able to use what is around me to create solutions. I have the ability to see problems as puzzles: there is a problem or issue that needs a solution, and there is a column of resources available to me (databases, access to professional literature and software programs, office software and resources, etc). I enjoy working with what is around me, the resources at my disposal, to create a solution to a problem. In Evidence B, I used my knowledge of IRS to locate an existing IRS that was meaningful to me (the Civil Rights Digital Library database) and I highlighted that database, created a LibGuide discussing the IRS and how to best use it, and publicized that guide during a large push for awareness of racial justice and civil rights issues in the U.S.. I bring this same resourcefulness and drive to my career in the information sciences.
How My Knowledge of the Design, Query, and Evaluation of Information Retrieval Systems Will Contribute to My Professional Competence in the Future:
I am an excellent information professional because I understand how to apply the design, query-effectiveness, and evaluative strategies of IRS in both theoretical and real world settings in order to address an issue or solve a problem. I have learned how to utilize IRS to create solutions by designing my own IRS from scratch, and by creating teaching tools designed to help others utilize IRS to create solutions. Creating my WebData Pro database, LibGuide, and presentation taught me to take technical concepts (such as creating a data structure, entering records, and building a functional search page) and to use those concepts in ways that are meaningful to me, such as supporting civil rights activists. My understanding of the intricacies of IRS and how IRS can be utilized to create solutions make me an outstanding fit for this position.
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