Reflections on Information System Design

16 Jul

After reading about designing information retrieval systems, it occurs to me that this practice has important considerations in common with those of Collection Development.  In both cases, the goal is to populate a space with information that can be easily found and used by an audience of users.  In both cases, when you are populating that space with information AND when you are deciding how to organize it, one of the most important things is understanding what the users need.

As discussed in my response to Evans’ essay, there are a few ways to assess users’ needs in collection development – by what they say they need, what their actions show that they need, what experts say they need, and by comparing your collection to other like collections.  In a library collection, much of the material occupies physical space.  In a modern information retrieval system, the material occupies a virtual space , so understanding users’ needs must also consider inputs and outputs when analyzing the problem to be solved by the system.  Some of these guiding questions, according to Weedman are:

  • Who wants the system and why?
  • What are the goals for the system?
  • Who will the users be?
  • Will the goals evolve over time?
  • What are the best guesses about what future needs from the system will be?

Answering these questions early is essential, as it will influence what content populates the system, how that content is labeled and organized, how it will be searched and how it will be delivered.  Misjudging any of these inputs will result in design flaws of the system and frustrated users who are not getting the outputs they need.

(Written in response to: “Chapter 11 – Information Retrieval: Designing, Querying, and Evaluating Information Systems” by Judith Weedman in The Portable MLIS: Insights from the Experts[2008].)

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