Category Archives: searching

Findability as a business issue

Of course librarians have known for a long time how important controlled vocabulary is for subject access. The blog post “Integrating taxonomies with search” underscores the value of terminology control and highlights four techniques which improve the search experience using taxonomies.

The example screenshot in the post is from CAB Direct, a source of reference for applied life science articles (introductory video). There’s a special section in CAB Direct dedicated to the CAB thesaurus where you can browse or search for specific terms.

The databases CAB Abstracts and Global Health which underlie the database platform are maintained by CABI, a non-profit international organization in the agricultural and environmental sector.

It’s encouraging to read the conclusion that “integrating taxonomies with search is therefore at heart a business issue” – it shows that the importance of structured subject access is recognized (in the corporate sector too, for that matter), and it should make librarians confident that we have a real value to bring to the table.

Consistency and identity management

Consistency is a strange thing. We are in dire need of it to give computers something reliable to work with, yet we are unlikely to achieve the necessary level of consistency in our data due to various reasons. First, we are human, and inconsistency can be said to be part of human nature; second, there are different catalogers entering data into the same pool who don’t do things exactly the same. We can (and as catalogers, should) strive for as much consistency as possible in our own work, but factors such as the ones just mentioned get in the way.

Current ILS match strings for indexing, so it’s hard for them to tell whether “Oxford UP” and “Oxford Univ. Pr.” and “Oxford University Press” (I’ll spare you other ways to write this – which exist!) are the same or not. Users wanting to browse titles of a certain publisher are left to click through lists of variant names (typos and such included…). Or even worse, failing such an index, they have to search for all kinds of variations.

Why not cluster / merge these under one term? The technical possibilities are there (the freely available Google Refine, or topic maps, for that matter), I’m sure it could be implemented into library systems. A simple list of values to choose from while cataloging would be another, although limited, option. Here software can help straighten out human errors or inconsistencies (which, let’s face it, will continue to exist) and users will benefit from a more time-sparing and useful display. Identity management, anyone?

Moving Forward – blog

In one of his recent postings to NGC4Lib, Jonathan Rochkind mentioned the University of Wisconsin resource discovery blog Moving Forward. As a cataloging geek, I had to go and check it out ;). If you are keen to learn about the inner workings of a discovery system based on Solr and Blacklight (without too much technical detail, unless you want it), about indexing and searching and the interaction between back-end and front-end, this blog is for you. In particular I enjoy the clear and accessible language of the posts.

Just as an example, let me warmly recommend “Bibliographic Description? Bibliographic Interaction!. Enabling users to combine terms across subject headings empowers them to pursue their own semantic interpretations of subjects – they don’t necessarily need to match the subject strings the cataloger came up with. To be honest, these possibilities of subject browsing are really impressive to me, never having seen such an implementation before. It goes to show that with cleverness and the available technology, some of the rigidity of MARC can be overcome and data can begin to “dance” – not clumsily but elegantly.