Librarian Subject Searching in Online Catalogs: An Exploratory Study of Knowledge Used

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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1991 - Information storage and retrieval systems - 574 pages
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This research was designed to begin to identify and characterize the knowledge used by experienced librarians while searching for subject information in online catalogs. If we begin to understand what knowledge is used by skilled searchers of online catalogs, then perhaps that knowledge can be built into library systems so that the inexperienced or infrequent user can benefit from specialist knowledge without having to develop the expertise explicitly. Ten experienced librarians (catalogers and reference librarians) performed the same set of six subject searches in the Illinet Online catalog used by many libraries throughout the state of Illinois. Investigated was the knowledge used to solve retrieval problems. This knowledge represents expertise in the use of the catalog. Techniques of knowledge acquisition used by knowledge engineers in building expert systems were used for knowledge elicitation. Data were collected through the use of think-aloud protocols, transaction logs, and structured interviews. Knowledge was defined as knowledge of objects (factual knowledge), knowledge of events (experiential knowledge), knowledge of performance (process knowledge), and metaknowledge. The first stage of analysis involved extracting from the think-aloud protocols evidence of factual and experiential knowledge. Evidence for factual knowledge was primarily the presence of nouns and adjectives used by librarians during the process of searching. The evidence for experiential knowledge was explicit statements indicating that the searcher was relating the present event to previous search experience. The second stage of analysis involved more in-depth analysis of the transaction logs and think-aloud protocols for evidence of process and metaknowledge. For process knowledge, the data were examined for evidence of search patterns. Analysis concentrated on (1) the kinds of searches participants used, (2) the search patterns that resulted in item selection, (3) the factors that caused the participants to modify their approach to the search task, (4) the supplementary tools, and the elements on the bibliographic record that participants used, and (5) the effects of system design on searching. For evidence of metaknowledge the data were examined for reasons that participants gave for actions taken and observations made, and for evidence that participants evaluated their own performance.

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