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Known-Item Versus Unknown-Item Searching Sunday, May 28, 2006

Posted by VoeD in Articles.

A quick search on Google landed me on this nice excerpt on blogspot. It gives a nice recap to stuff that I don't know on searching and on catalogues hehehe, which is great!

Here we have:

The purpose of a library catalog, as stated by Charles C. Cutter in Rules for a Dictionary Catalog (1904), later modified by Bohdan S. Wynar in Introduction to Cataloging and Classification (8th ed., 1992), is to offer the user a variety of approaches or access points to the information contained in the collection:


  1. To enable a person to find any work, whether issued in print or in nonprint format, when one of the following is known:
    a. The author
    b. The title
    c. The subject
  2. To show what the library has
    d. By a given author
    e. On a given and related subjects
    f. In a given kind of literature
  3. To assist in the choice of a work
    g. As to the bibliographic edition
    h. As to its character (literary or topical)

And on this Jenn had a particulatly strong point to make about Unknown Item searches on catalogues:

I suppose my point in the end is that it's simple to build a system that searches the text of pre-created metadata fields for an entered query string. It's much more difficult to build systems that allow users to truly explore. We often forget how important that exploration function is. We look at our search logs, and see mostly known-item searches, so we think that's what we need to focus on. Of course we see that – it's what our systems are designed around! But what would happen if we started to provide relevant results to subject and other unknown-item searches? I'd bet a whole lot of money that we'd see a huge increase in unknown-item searching. Sure, for some types of materials, known-item searching may very well be the primary means of access users need. But let's at least look at the alternative, and work with actual users to see how we can provide them with exploratory functions we don't currently supply.

The comments left on this post were also enlightening. They led me to these:

  1. Aquabrowser
    Its funny, I actually thought of the same idea a few weeks back when I was talking to my brother about an Ajax Forum. Replies and re-replies and re-re-replies can be quite messy in a Forum sometimes, especially when people are replying each other. This is because posts are often listed chronologically instead of in some logical order of replies. So naturally, a graph of some sort would be a good visual representation for it (I came up with it – yay!). It will be implemented like a connected tag cloud basically. Its interesting how the Aqua browser has exactly that feature. hehehe. Even more interesting, its actually implemented in NLB. Wow..
  2. State Library of Victoria – and its "more like this" button.
    But is it true that Known Item searches is much stronger in an Academic setting? Or is it just like Jenn said, that if given the right interface, there will be more Unknown Item searches…
  3. Endeca – and its guided navigation system
    From the press release, "Endeca is the first OPAC search system to deliver dynamic navigation using the value-added structure provided by cataloging and classification. This offers the ease of the Google approach — ‘type a few words’ — with the added advantage of allowing users to focus a search by browsing through cataloging data associated with those results."
  4. Cataloging for the Future by Barbara B. Tillett
    The excerpt on Future Systems is particularly interesting. It references Endeca as well as proposes systems that may give directions on where to find the book of interest as well as links to online bookstores to buy them. Hmmm…


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