Sunday, February 19, 2006

I am in doubt. Oh so much doubt. I'm working on the second assignment for my class, Organization of Information and Resources. (I should say that I did quite well on the first assignment - yay!)

Anyway, this one is on subject analysis and indexing. What is this all about you ask? Well, let me tell you (because I feel like procrastinating!).

Let's say you want to find an article all about the controversy between enrollment and achievement status at charter schools versus public schools in the US. Without subject analysis/indexing, here's what you'd have to do: read through every article in the world till you found what you were looking for. That's a slight exaggeration. Obviously you could narrow your search down by only looking in journals about education. And you could narrow it down to all articles written after 2003 (or whatever). But that's still a hefty stack of journals to look through.
And you can't necessarily judge what the article is about by just looking at the title. No siree. What about "Toward a Pragmatic Understanding of Status-Consciousness"? Would you guess from the title that this is about charter schools? I'm thinking not.

So librarians, many, many, many years ago realized that the number of articles (and books) was growing huge and it was getting really difficult to find a document on a specific topic. So now librarians take it upon themselves to look at documents and index them so they can be found more easily.

So first you have to look at a document and decide: what is this about? This is way more difficult than you may think. Why? Because people are different and they see things in different ways. I might read an article and think it's about deer and index it so. But you may think it's about hunting or some other related topic. There are a dozen or more methods describing different ways to do this subject analysis, but in the end, it is "problematic," as our professor keeps saying. But we do the best we can.

Secondly, we take these subjects and turn them into indexing terms. Often a controlled vocabulary is used. (I'm not even going to try to explain that. Sorry.) So let's say I have an article about dogs in movies. I assign it the terms Dogs and Movies. If you're searching in the library database using those terms, you'll find the article.

So, one disadvantage. What happens if you don't use one of those terms? What if you search under 'motion pictures' instead? You wouldn't find anything. Of course there is cross referencing and preferred terms, etc, but this sort of problem does happen from time to time. That's why when you search you should use different keywords to find what you're looking for.

And one advantage... who cares about indexing and whatnot anyway because now we can do fulltext searches and we don't have to read through all the text anyway? Well, say you have an article about Old Yeller (or whatever that movie was). What if that article doesn't have the word 'dog' in it anywhere? It's obviously about a dog, but your search wouldn't bring it up. That's where indexing comes in because that term would be added and you could find the article.

All that said, it sounds like I know what I'm talking about, but for some reason this assignment is just not coming together!

So, I pulled out my "When in doubt, put the kettle on!" mug (thanks Anna!) and made a lovely cup of Yorkshire tea.

And then I reminded myself:
1. This teacher grades section by section through all the papers, so you don't really have to write a flowing paper (in fact it could hurt you!)
2. She's looking to see that I understand the concepts, so the actual document I'm indexing and maybe even the terms I pick don't matter so much.
3. I can email her and ask questions and hopefully I'll get an answer that makes sense!
4. And, it's not due till Wednesday. =)


Cosand said...

Your homework makes my brain hurt. Often.

Aimee said...

Mine too. =(

Anna Dunford said...

glad the mug made it safely back to Seattle and is providing good service!

Sounds like another take on florists in Wellington not coming up in the online yellow pages...

You'd think someone would come up with a searchable list of keywords words, sure you can add in extras but if everything had to have at least one standard keyword applied to it then in theory you've a better chance of finding it. Like if the Yellow Pages had a list (which could be sorted by subject or aphabetically) of what keywords they use then you'd be able to find that you need to look up cinemas not movie theatres to get the answer you are looking for...

enjoy your cuppa anyway!