Competency E



Competency E

Competency E: Design, query, and evaluate information retrieval systems

Statement of Understanding of Competency E:
An essential part of being an information professional includes being able to design, queries and evaluates information retrieval systems. Information professionals need to utilize information retrieval systems in order to assist patrons and staff. Being able to query an information retrieval system is a skill required to meet the information needs of contemporary library patrons.  According to Chowdhury the use of information retrieval, systems have become increasingly important,

“in today’s world we use information retrieval systems in almost every aspect of our daily lives: retrieving an email message received or sent on a specific date, to a specific person; finding something or someone on the web; searching for a book in an online library catalog or in a digital library; searching for a song or finding a video on YouTube; and so on” (Chowdhury, p X1, 2010).

In order for an information professional to optimize their ability to retrieve the information, they need to be able to evaluate information retrieval systems capabilities so they can choose an appropriate system to meet the needs of their staff and patrons. Understanding how information retrieval systems are designed and being able to design an information retrieval systems aids in a librarian’s ability to retrieve information efficiently and effectively. Information professionals need to be able to evaluate an information retrieval system’s ability to disseminate relevant information to its users so they can choose systems that are capable of meeting the needs of their patrons.


Understanding design of an information retrieval system is complicated and a great deal consideration is required when it comes to creating an information retrieval system. The design of an information retrieval system needs to be accessible to the vastly different types of users that exist in libraries and organizations. Chowdhury states that, “An information retrieval system is designed to retrieve the documents or information required by the user community. It should make the right information available to the right user” (Chowdhury, p.6, 2010). When designing an information retrieval system, the user needs must be taken into consideration. If a user cannot locate relevant information then the information retrieval system is inadequate to meet the user’s needs. When information professionals understand, the complexities involved in information retrieval system design it gives them better insight into using and producing an information retrieval system that are able to extract the largest amount of relevant results. When designing an information retrieval system, a good deal of thought needs to be applied to how its interface is arranged and how information is represented. Norman (1993) describes how proper design can impact usability,

“The form of representation most appropriate for an artifact depends upon the task to be performed. The same information may need to be represented differently for different tasks. With the appropriate choice of representation, hard tasks become easy” (Norman, 1993, p.20).

When an information professional understands design, they can make information understandable and useable. Utilizing proper design techniques can allow every user maximum access to information with minimal effort while yielding relevant results to a user’s query. In the early period of information retrieval systems, Rijsbergen (1979) introduces the concept of precision versus recall, which is related to the number of documents returned compared to the relevancy of the query. In Information Retrieval Rijsbergen (1979) states that,

“The purpose of an automatic retrieval strategy is to retrieve all the relevant documents at the same time retrieving as few non-relevant as possible. When the characterization of a document is worked out, it should be such that when the document it represents is relevant to a query, it will enable the document to be retrieved in response to that query” (Rijsbergen, 1979).

If an information retrieval system does not return relevant information, accurately reflect the information needed or is not presented in an easily understandable format then; the user will seek other systems for finding information. A designer must be considered whether an information retrieval system is able to return relevant information, accurately reflect required information and that the information is presented in an easily understood format in order to ensure that an information retrieval system is functional.


Querying an information retrieval system encompasses being able to choose appropriate search terms that will result in the retrieval of information that is relevant to a user’s query. Chowdhury (2010) describes querying in the following statement:

“Users interact with an information retrieval system through an interface where they are usually expected to express their information needs in the form of a query, which is presented to the search system through a search expression that may contain one more search terms presented in the form of a natural language sentence, or in a constrained natural language where search terms are linked with various search operators” (Chowdhury, 2010, p.5).

Information professionals need to be able to query an information retrieval system in order to assist users in retrieving information that meets that user’s specific needs. Chowdhury (2010) states that, “the success of an information retrieval system very much depends on the user’s judgment of whether retrieved documents are relevant to their query” (Chowdhury, 2010, p.5). An information professional needs to be able to query numerous systems to retrieve information. Each information retrieval system utilizes different search terms in order to yield relevant results an information professional needs to be equipped to recognize the optimal search terms for each system so they can produce the desired results. Choosing the appropriate search terms and language is essential to producing a user’s anticipated search results. Information Professionals have many tools in their toolkit to query information a few examples are using Boolean logic, controlled vocabulary, and field searching to aid in efficient information retrieval. “Boolean Logic for combining terms: the operators AND, OR, and NOT, and the use of parentheses to affect the order in which the Boolean operators are processed”(Bell, 2015) . Understanding the order of operations in which the Boolean operators are structured is important to efficiency query an information retrieval and reduces the time required for the system to retrieve the information. When considering using controlled vocabulary it is important to understand how to access an Information Retrieval Systems (IRS) controlled vocabulary list which will enable information professionals to retrieve optimal results and relevant variations without having to construct complex keyword queries that may not yield the desired information. Field searching allows information professionals to use established fields to restrict their searches and return precise and efficient results.  Understanding how to query information systems is vital to meeting the information needs of library patrons.


An information professional needs to be able to determine if an information retrieval system can provide their users with their desired results. An information professional needs to evaluate information retrieval systems capabilities and design to ensure library patrons can retrieve relevant results. If an information retrieval system disseminated information in a manner that is inefficient or incomprehensible to its users then that system is not adequate to meet the needs of the library. As stated by Chowdhury (2010),

“The objective of an information retrieval system is to retrieve all of the documents relevant to a query and to simultaneously withhold all those that are not relevant. Thus, a system will attempt to attain both high recall and high precision” (Chowdhury, 2010, p.99).

An information professional needs to understand how to evaluate information retrieval systems so they can choose a system with the capabilities to provide their users with the best results to their queries. For example, the vendor EBSCO’s interface for the ERIC database is a good example of how a vendor can employ field searching to allow to produce the desired results. Users can quickly and intuitively use the established fields to search the database. It is a vast improvement over the interface that ERIC database created by the Institute of Education Sciences provides. Users can only employ keyword queries and use Boolean logic to retrieve results via the ERIC database interface. Results are not as efficient or precise as the results retrieved by filed searching provided in the EBSCO via ERIC interface. EBSCO’s interface is more user-friendly and intuitive while allowing for more precise and efficient information retrieval. EBSCO’s database allows for more advanced search capabilities and uses a controlled vocabulary to quickly retrieve relevant information by keyword searching word variations, synonyms, and differentiate between various meanings of a word or phrase. Choosing the EBSCO via ERIC interface rather than ERIC database interface allows for more precise and efficient results. When information professionals can evaluate information retrieval systems they can subscribe to systems that will effectively meet the needs of their patrons and decide if a system design will function for their users.

Coursework Contributing to the Understanding of Competency E:

My understanding of Competency E was gained from knowledge imparted to me in my classes at San Jose State University.

LIBR 202: Information Retrieval System Design focused on information retrieval systems and their design. In this class, we created a database from a collection of objects. We worked in a group and to develop a database that could retrieve information about items in a collection. We learned to query multiple types of information systems. We gained knowledge on how information retrieval systems are created, function, organized, evaluated and techniques on how to use various systems efficiently.

To satisfy Competency E, I submit the following evidence:

Evidence E-1: LIBR202 – Exercise #1

Exercise #1

This is assignment is a query of primary and intermediary information retrieval systems. A topic was selected for research related to the field of information science. This assignment includes several paragraphs discussing why the topic was chosen and outlining keywords that to use in querying this topic. Ten searches queries were performed in Google Scholar and ten queries in Library Literature & Information Science full text. Then the GETTEXT feature was used to link the full text. Then the citations were exported from Google Scholar and Library Literature & Information Science full text into RefWorks. The full-text documents and citations found from querying each system then saved as full-text documents in RefWorks. This exercise contains a description of searching both a primary information retrieval system where one repository is searched, as is the case with Library Literature & Information Science full text and an intermediary information retrieval system where multiple repositories are search such as with Google Scholar. The two systems are compared and contrasted in this exercise. This exercise helped me to understand the differences and similarities of these two systems. This assignment helped me to discover the strengths and weaknesses of each system. This will assist me in determining how to best use each information retrieval system to meet the information needs of library patrons. Querying both a primary and intermediary information retrieval system has aided me in understanding which type of system to recommend to users based on the type of task the patron is attempting accomplish.

Evidence E-2: LIBR202 – Project #1

Project #1

We worked cooperatively in groups to select a collection, consider design in relation to our user group, and generate a description of our collection. Then described the attributes of each object in our collection necessary to meet the information needs of our user group and that would allow us to distinguish one object from another. We described our user group and considered the types of information needs that they would need to be met by our database. We considered these information needs of when designing our database. We took in consideration theories related to the design of information retrieval system and importance of accounting for our users’ needs in design. We defined the terms classification, systems of classifications and standards. This assignment gave me great insight on how to create an information retrieval system, how information retrieval systems functions, theories of design and the importance of considering the user in your design. This assignment helped me to understand the differences between classifications and standards as well as a system of classifications.

Evidence E-3: LIBR202 – Project #2

Project #2

Table for Project #2

Cataloging rules for Project #2

Rules for cataloging

In this project, we worked collaboratively in groups to present and analyze a unit of description. We designed a database from our collection (selected in project #1) using Webdata Pro. We created rules for cataloging on how information should be entered in each record based on the rules we created for each field. We described each field and why it should be included in our database. The database was created using standard and rules for cataloging.  In the assignment, our group included unique identifiers that allowed us to differentiate from one object in the database from another. Our rules for cataloging included a unique identifier, field length, whether a field was required or not, the fields needed for the attributes that were identified, field formatting, and data type, indexing, and included the form the data took when entered. This project expanded my understanding of the process of creating a database, creating rules for cataloging, and how to structure a database to retrieve information about a collection. I gained a better understanding of the function, organization, and structure of databases. I learned how to produce an operational information retrieval system. I learned about creating fields and entering records this knowledge will be an invaluable future creation of an information retrieval systems.

Evidence E-4: LIBR202 – Project #3

Project #3

In this project, we worked together in groups to evaluate the information retrieval system RefWorks. Together we built a sample bibliography using RefWorks using citations resulting from queries done by each group member. We exported these documents and citations into RefWorks. We analyzed the information retrieval system using the concepts of affordance, constraint, mapping, natural mapping, conceptual/mental models, and the paradox of technology. We define the meaning of each term and discussed how they applied to RefWorks than we analyzed several features of the information retrieval system to determine whether they worked effectively or if we thought they needed improvement. This project required us to think conceptually about using information retrieval systems and to determine the efficacy of a particular system. This assignment equipped me with invaluable knowledge of how to evaluate an information retrieval system for function and usability. This knowledge will assist me with the skills needed to determine which type of information retrieval system will be suitable for a specific user group and will be best at meeting a specific user need.


Understanding every component of an information retrieval system is a required skill set for modern information professionals in order to provide patrons with appropriate service. My classes at San Jose State University have prepared me to be able to create an information retrieval system, design an information retrieval system for the best possible results, evaluate an information retrieval system, and query information from multiple types of information systems effectively. This experience and knowledge will be instrumental in the success of my future endeavors as an information professional and my current studies in the field of the information sciences.


Bell, S. S. (2015). Librarian’s guide to online searching (4th ed.) [Kindle DX version].

Chowdhury, G. G. (2010). Introduction to modern information retrieval. New York, NY:    

Neal-Schuman Publishers.

I Norman, D. (1993). Things that make us smart: defending human attributes in the age of the machine. New York, NY: Perseus Books.

Van Rijsbergen, C. J. (1979). Information retrieval. London: Butterworths.