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[Image] Information Retrieval & Methodology Research

Information Retrieval & Methodology Research

Chunsheng Huang is a PhD student at SOIS, specializing in information retrieval. Huang sat down to talk with Inside SOIS about her research.

Can you tell me about your background?

CH: Before I came to the United States, I worked as an academic librarian in Taiwan. The school that I worked for was National Chung Hsing University. I worked there as a section chief in the Circulation and Collection Management divisions. Basically, what I mostly did there was management of the budget and personnel for regular duties and grant execution. Luckily I had the chance to participate in a digital library-related project sponsored by the National Science Council in Taiwan. That’s where I had the first experience with digital libraries.

Actually, the initiation of the project is quite interesting. It was due to that we plan to build a new library. Then, we came to realized that there’s an old collection associated to Japanese colonial period. There were no systematic records of how many items were in this collection. So we decided to do an inventory on this collection. Later we believed that there was some historical value in this collection so we cooperated with several professors in campus. They provided their specialties in agriculture, Taiwan history and literature, library and information science, copy right, and computer science. With the help of many experts, we decided to initiate the project.

How long did it take you?
CH: The preparation work took around five years. That is because we had this new library, launched in 2004. The old library was previously damaged by a severe earthquake. We had to move everything out, and during that long process of moving we came to encounter this old collection. In the new library building, we prepared a special collection room to accommodate some of the most precious and unique manuscript with temperature and humidity controlled environment. This historical collection is mainly about agricultural research which was left way back hundred years ago. At that time [Taiwan] was still in the Japanese colonial period and so all the collections are in Japanese. In the digital library project, we designed a digital library to fulfill the goal. Major functions of the system include access to the digital content, search, metadata, and management. In the search function, we add many features to develop a user-oriented environment, including multi-language, subject browsing, and post-classification techniques.

How did that influence your research?
CH: We created the digital library to preserve the collection and make it more accessible to users. But more questions came into my mind. Does the digital library really support users’ need? Is it easy to use? Does the system provide intuitive searching and navigation for the users? What are the searching preferences of the users? I really want to know the answers. I guess these questions had led me to my research topic.

What has your research been like here at SOIS?
CH: For the past year, most of the work I have done is the coursework requirements. I have taken mostly in the major area and research methodology. The course works direct me to explore different research topics within information studies and beyond. I learned what have been accomplished in our fields of study during the past decades and what areas and directions that need more work to be done. The courses that I have taken cultivate me in building up my philosophical viewpoint and theoretical background in information studies. I think these are the cornerstone, the basic foundations of one’s knowledge in order to pursue future independent research. I also took several research method related courses. These courses basically equipped me with the tools of conducting research. In our field of study as well as other fields, we tend to emphasize the value of triangulation. I am hoping that I can do that in my research.

My first step is to incorporate the qualitative approach into my research. [I’ve started] my digital library study to investigate users’ help-seeking patterns. I designed several tasks for my participants to interact with digital libraries to explore what are the behaviors while users interacting with digital libraries. The purpose is to find out the patterns and what should be the matched designing principles of digital libraries, so that users can feel intuitive while searching in digital libraries. So far, I did a pilot study based on five or six participants – that’s the first phase. In the study, the think-aloud protocols, pre- questionnaires, cognitive preference questionnaire, and post-interview were used to gather more information about users’ reaction. I came out with some preliminary patterns for the first phase subjects. I’m recruiting more participants during this summer to verify these preliminary findings.

Are you working with a professor from around the school?
CH: Yes, my major advisor is Dr. Iris Xie. She has tremendous and extensive experiences in digital libraries, especially in the help functions. I also work as project assistant with several professors in our school.

Can you talk a little bit about expectations you have for future research?
CH: For the first year, I finished quite amount of the required coursework. Therefore, by the end of the second year, I wish I could and plan to take the preliminary test. After that I need to prepare for my research proposal. Since I am doing my continued pilot study, I hope I will come out some convincing and reasonable results for future dissertation work. I don’t know the exact details right now, but I’m thinking the possibilities of combining both qualitative and quantitative approaches to verify my research question.

Do you see yourself using your research to design an interface?
CH: Based on the user’s response, I will come up with more new designing principles. I probably won’t design an interface by myself. But that might be a good idea to go further [laughs]. I am sure someone might do the job in the future if my research outcomes are really helpful.

If you are interested in volunteering as a subject for Huang’s digital library research project, email her at haung22@uwm.edu.