Competency E - Statement and Evidence

  Portfolio of Cathleen Elizabeth Ash

design, query and evaluate information retrieval systems;

As users, we query and evaluate information retrieval systems continuously, whether consciously or not. Some prefer to use a Thomson*Gale database over InfoTrac because the advanced search options are more friendly and intuitive; some prefer to Google rather than search on Yahoo (and vice-versa). What draws a person to one interface over another, or one database over another? It is often a combination of ease-of-use and results. The combination of these two items should be a positive experience for a user, to ensure continued use of the services.

To make a positive, end-user experience, the interface is critical. How many buttons must be clicked to "get to the good stuff?" Is the layout itself visually appealing or cluttered? Many of the questions that must be answered when designing a front-end focus on the clientelle that will utilize the service. The age, ability, level of comfort with the tool, even the level of research skill, will all play a part in the interface design.

While the front-end must be given a lot of consideration and careful planning, it does no good if the information requested does not appear when called. The back-end (database) must provide relevant hits and enough of them for the users to feel confident they have used the correct search methods for their queries. The results must not include non-relevant items, or at least not many of them. All users have become used to some level of inanity in responses - mostly through the standard, general-public search engines available on the web. What's important is that the user retrieves enough hits for their response to ensure access to the information being sought.

Prior to entering the MLIS program, I had done some work with front-end design. This included my own websites and contract work on two large databases. One revolved around automated warehouse software, the other around the telecommunications links at Air Traffic Control centers for the FAA. When I first entered this program, I had a chance to look more closely at the back-end, utilizing stop words and wild cards in anticipation of user-input.

In reviewing the projects that I and my group members created, it is clear these are entry level attempts at designing information retrieval systems, but they address all of the requisite aspects: user interface, anticipated user-input or query methods, and number of relevant hits returned.

As was previously stated, information retrieval systems are constantly being evaluated by users, whether consciously or not. Everyone has his or her favorite search engine; students who log onto library databases may prefer EBSCO over Wilson Web or vice-versa. Always, it's a combination of ease-of-use, intuitiveness, relevancy of results, and number of results. It is up to the providers of information to ensure that these elements are included.

List of Evidence for Competency E:
Point & Shoot A paper addressing current theories on user-interface design strategies.
Group 1 Exercises A database design based on a specific user-group and information set, discussing what worked with the design and what didn't.
FAA database This is the early version of a since-completed database front-end I designed for the FAA. The later phases of the project contain data and are therefore not available for public view. When looking at the documents, the FY Budget and first two sections of the manual are complete.