Portfolio Statements

Document Sample
Portfolio Statements Powered By Docstoc

       At its root, librarianship is the art of standing in the user’s shoes. We catalog,
classify, and control so that others may access resources – we must use methods as
transparent, as intuitively obvious, as we can. By necessity, we have to facilitate interaction
with the information we store because we have not yet mastered the interface for the public
such that they can reliably find the best information themselves. But we’re getting better.
My experiences have underscored both that I must understand my community at a
fundamental level and that I must stay current with today’s rapidly evolving field of
information management.
       The art and science of computerized searching has revolutionized libraries and
information storage to the point where patrons can guide themselves to some kind of
information more easily than ever before. This seemingly easy searching may seduce users
into a false sense of confidence that they are fully satisfying their information needs
without professional help. Paradoxically, the goal of librarians is to improve access to all
formats of quality information while reducing the need for professional intervention. Will
we render ourselves irrelevant by achieving this goal? No. The proliferation of
information sources has made librarians more important than ever. The need for
understanding the nature and reliability of information has grown. Our patron
communities change and evolve, and therefore we must adapt our strategies and expand
our services. Our role is changing very quickly; these are exciting times.
       Today’s information professional must possess the right attitude and a broad range
of skills to complement her theoretical education. The ability to teach requires a sense of
responsibility in order to properly communicate our methods for finding information with
others. Leadership demands courage and vision. A commitment to serve our community
by sharing our knowledge of the best resources demonstrates the profession’s
undiminished relevancy. Comfort with the ever-advancing information technologies is
fundamental, while a talent for theoretical exploration and intellectual expression will keep
librarianship moving forward.

                                      Page 1/Mehlin Portfolio
Portfolio Statements

       The opportunity to teach requires reflection on the instructor’s motivation and a
responsibility to students. What does the student want to learn? Why do I think I can
teach this subject? How should I present it? Will students find value in learning it? “It,”
in the experience described below, represents the knowledge of tools and techniques for
finding commercial sources for plants, seeds and bulbs. Enthusiastic gardeners
everywhere desire plants beyond what their local nurseries stock, but finding sources for
rare and unusual plants often proves arduous. Gardeners armed with a little information
find sources for plants with ease and efficiency. This essay recounts the context and
personal reflection, significance, and contribution to professional development from
teaching a class on plant sources in January 2003.
       In the fall of 2000, an analysis of reference questions received at the Elisabeth C.
Miller Library was undertaken in order to determine how best to apply limited resources.
The analysis showed that one of the top five information requests was from gardeners
looking for a commercial source for plants unavailable at their local nurseries. Another
indication of the information need was the consistently high number of hits per month on
our web page Sources for Plants. Clearly patrons of the Miller Library and beyond want to
know where and how to find sources for plants.
       Last fall, the Center for Urban Horticulture’s Continuing Education Coordinator,
Sue Nicol, asked if the library wanted to offer a class. We agreed to offer a class during
winter quarter addressing the demonstrated need for information about sources for plants
and featuring the library’s collection of mail-order nursery catalogs.
       I volunteered to teach the class because I found the process of searching for sources
for plants challenging and compelling. It may seem obvious to go straight to Google to
look for a nursery selling species peonies or the newest hybrid rose, but in fact such an
imprecise search often yields irrelevant web sites that merely mention the plant in
question, or are nurseries located in another country. Experience teaches that certain
resources used with a tested strategy yield highly relevant results: local nurseries with
available stock. The Miller Library web site mentions some of the more common resources

                                     Page 2/Mehlin Portfolio
used to find plants, but only generally refers to search strategies. Common sense dictated
that any class on searching for sources for plants should focus primarily on strategy and
process, supported by a discussion of tools and resources.
       A number of characteristics of the winter quarter Sources class increased the impact
of this teaching experience. The cost of the class, how the class was administered, and the
ultimate size of the class all contributed to a significant teaching experience.
       The fact that this class would be administered through the Continuing Education
and Outreach unit of CUH meant a number of decisions were out of my control. The CE
staff determined the cost, scheduling and advertising of the class, with limited input from
me. The consequence of this administrative situation was that the twenty-five dollar
required fee and limited advertising threatened to limit participation so badly that the class
would be cancelled.
       The situation was desperate, as there were only two paying students, two below the
minimum. At the last minute, four people signed up after Carl Elliot, gardening guru of
KUOW radio, aired a brief plug for the class, saving it from cancellation. One can only
guess how many more participants would have signed up had the fee been lower, or non-
existent. In all, six paying students, one CUH volunteer and one staff member attended
the class. On the plus side, this intimate class size allowed me to lecture in the small,
temporary library space, underscoring the relevance of the collection for the students. The
group fully participated in discussion that may not have developed in a larger group.
Furthermore, the small class size did allow for everyone to have a computer and to try out
the licensed nursery catalog database at the same time. People proved most interested in
browsing the unique nursery catalogs presented during the lecture.
       Prospective students paid their money to the Public Education budget to register for
the class. The high cost considerably increased the pressure I felt to offer a worthwhile
experience. I stretched my thinking about how to present the material that would offer the
most value for class participants beyond what they could receive from simply reading the
Sources for Plants web page. If a plant were available for sale anywhere in the world, my
students would be able to find it! Additionally, the class should be more than informative,
it should be fun.
       Teaching the Sources for Plants class contributed greatly to my professional
development. Playing the role of professional librarian increased the confidence I feel

                                      Page 3/Mehlin Portfolio
when working with patrons. Teaching the class forced me to reflect on user needs and
expectations, which increased the quality of the presentation. Finally, the experience of
helping to bridge the knowledge gap between novice searcher and advanced search
strategies was perhaps most rewarding for me.
        Recognizing a distinct user need, I developed and taught a class on how to find
sources for plants, a project made especially significant by the fact that people paid a fee to
attend. The experience made an impact on my professional development by forcing an
examination of user needs and expectations, while at the same time causing reflection on
my own role as expert and professional. Based upon this experience, I conclude that
students did indeed find value in learning about search strategies and tools for locating
sources for plants, and I most certainly can help them overcome their “Anomalous State of
Knowledge.”1 Reflecting upon one’s own motivations and those of prospective students
generates a sense of responsibility and inspires creative solutions to user information need.

        Librarians are known for their resourcefulness, attention to detail and
organizational skills. Overlooked is talent for leadership, which is essential to managing a
successful library. In contrast to the idea of a military commander barking orders,
librarian leadership requires the ability to inspire confidence, build consensus, and
communicate a vision. My own leadership experience is described below, including the
context, significance and contribution to my professional development.
        In 2001 the Miller Library added a new “product” to the traditional reference
service. Plant Answer Line (PAL) was modeled after the public library’s quick information
phone reference service. With its own phone number, dedicated staff member, and a new
logo, PAL was heavily marketed as “a quick reference service for gardeners.” The service
would focus exclusively on phone and email questions. Because both the service and the
staff member were new, the library manager established certain policies that applied
explicitly to PAL, but not necessarily to the “traditional” reference service including calls to
the established library phone number. After two years, Plant Answer Line proved
remarkably successful, averaging 33 questions per week. However, it became apparent

 Belkin, N.J. (1980.) “Anomalous states of knowledge as a basis for information retrieval.” Canadian Journal of
Information Science. 5:133-143.

                                              Page 4/Mehlin Portfolio
that the PAL and the traditional service were nearly identical in types of questions received
and time spent answering questions. In other words, PAL wasn’t really so different, aside
from having a separate phone line and a dedicated staff member who only worked on
reference questions. Yet PAL questions were documented differently, records were kept
permanently, and service standards varied compared to the traditional service. As the two
technicians, myself included, and a few qualified volunteers filled in for the PAL librarian,
it became obvious that to have two sets of policies and unwritten standards was confusing
and occasionally problematic. I set out this winter to change the status quo.
       After recognizing the need for a change, I outlined not only the areas where policies
and standards differed between the two services, but also questions I had about our
reference service in general. For example, how should we handle questions from out of the
region, and how should we handle referrals to our faculty? Informal discussions with the
other staff members involved with reference yielded further topics for deliberation.
Eventually, with the new Acting Library Manager’s acquiescence I called and lead a staff
meeting to discuss changing the policies and standards. The goal of the meeting was to
examine the current state of affairs, come to a consensus on a unified reference policy, and
decide what would be included in a new reference manual for new staff and volunteers.
Following the meeting I wrote a draft manual, which the staff provided feedback on, and
ultimately we ended up with a complete set of guidelines and a unified reference policy.
       Two characteristics make this leadership experience especially significant: the
opportunity to effect real change and the risk of alienating my coworkers. Adding a new
version to an existing service meant that at some point it would become necessary to
review how the two services were functioning. The opportunity presented itself for me to
initiate the review process and motivate my coworkers to work with me to establish a new
collective set of policies. I recognized the need for a review and directly influenced the
course of action leading to a document the entire reference staff could embrace. It cannot
be stressed enough that the entire process was open and collaborative. The risk of
annoying my coworkers and boss by pressing for a change to the status quo was real,
although the risk was not overly high because the Miller Library is supportive of
innovation. Because the staff works cooperatively on many projects, and in close physical
proximity, and because we are all generally quite sociable with one another alienating
anyone would negatively affect everyone. In addition, in some libraries it may not always

                                      Page 5/Mehlin Portfolio
be well received for technical staff to make policy recommendations usually reserved for
supervising librarians. In this case, the Miller Library staff welcomed the chance to
improve our system.
       Leadership is generally associated with managers or others in supervisory positions.
However, the leadership qualities I am interested in developing, namely the ability to
inspire confidence, build consensus, and communicate a vision, are not restricted to
positions of authority. The reference policy review contributed to my professional
development by allowing me to exercise a leadership role that I don’t normally get to
demonstrate in such an explicit way. I also gained experience initiating change, directing
and facilitating discussion at a meeting, and writing policy with staff feedback.
       In summary, I saw a need, took the initiative to set change in motion, organized the
agenda, directed a meeting, sought and listened to input, crystallized consensual decisions,
and wrote policy with continual feedback. This process effected real change in the Miller
Library’s reference guidelines and policies, and clarified how leadership manifests in my
own developing professional style. Leadership is a creative process. Facilitating that
process is a skill like answering reference questions or writing grant proposals that
becomes stronger with exercise.

       Library reference service strives to help people find the information they need
quickly and efficiently. Traditionally it is a “point of need” service. On the flip side,
journalism also tries to inform people, but with a presumed notion of what information the
reader needs. What happens when a librarian (in training) with reference experience
attempts to write about information resources for a newspaper? A column is produced that
serves thousands of readers and is distilled from real-life reference questions. Writing the
new Garden Tools column for the Seattle Times allowed me to hone my expertise in
evaluating quality information sources that fulfill current needs of the larger community.
What follows is the background and purpose of the Garden Tools column, the significance
of the experience, and the contribution to my professional development by writing for the
Seattle Times.
       In June of 2002 the Seattle Times introduced a new gardening feature for the
Wednesday edition of the Northwest Life section. Valerie Easton, Miller Library manager

                                      Page 6/Mehlin Portfolio
at that time, added a Wednesday question and answer column to her established Sunday
Plant Life column, while Mary Robson’s column moved from Sunday to Wednesday. The
editor at the time, Linda Parish, also decided to include a call-out box type of mini-column
that would feature resources that gardeners could use. The new column was called Garden
Tools as a metaphor for books, articles, web sites, magazines, etc that gardeners could use
to grow a better garden. Valerie offered her staff’s time to submit items in exchange for the
significant marketing benefit of having the Miller Library name in the paper every week.
Valerie asked if I was interested in coordinating the effort of choosing and submitting a
tool every week and I enthusiastically accepted.
       By September my role grew from coordinator to exclusive author, with the exception
of a few vacation weeks when Brian Thompson, the Systems and Technical Services
Librarian, filled in for me. The single contribution every week was so appreciated that the
new editor, Kimberly Marlowe, asked if I could submit two or three items instead of only
one. The Garden Tools metaphor also expanded to include regional gardening related
events of interest, local gardens with seasonal interest, new research or news for gardeners
as well as novel or unique garden tools, in a literal sense. Material would be drawn from
the over 250 active horticultural periodicals received by the library, new and favorite time-
tested books, as well as other resources used to answers reference questions asked by
patrons. The role of librarian as evaluator of worthy, relevant resources expanded to the
roll of insider with subject expertise and a finger on the pulse of the gardening world!
       The on-going opportunity to write for the Seattle Times proves significant for a
number of reasons. First, writing for potentially thousands of readers every week is an
exciting feeling because of the chance to expose numerous people to all the great gardening
resources we use at the library every day. Writing for the general public is a very different
experience from the usual academic writing for one instructor. The writing style must be
accessible and free of jargon and technical terms; concise, yet attention grabbing, or at
least relevant and interesting. Having a deadline is not unusual for any student, but a
weekly deadline, every week, adds to the pressure of writing an interesting and relevant
column. While I have an idea of what I will write about in advance I generally don’t
actually write the column until the day it is “due.” Some weeks that day is filled with other
time-consuming work duties, like difficult reference questions or meetings, forbidding any
tolerance of writer’s block. Finally, and most significant of all, I feel a strong sense of

                                       Page 7/Mehlin Portfolio
responsibility to share the best, most useful gardening resources and insights - a
distillation of the Miller Library itself - with readers. The Garden Tools should save
readers time, point to solutions for gardening problems, and reveal the wonder that is
       Writing the Garden Tools column contributes significantly to my professional
development in a number of respects. The column sharpens my writing skills, including
the critical talent of overcoming writer’s block. I evaluate the worth of resources every day
as I answer reference questions or help a patron find the best information from our
collection. However, distilling mental evaluations into 75-word written statements forces
me to closely examine assumptions about why a particular resource may be useful for
gardeners in general. Writing out evaluations every week acts as an exercise for
strengthening proficiency in judging worth, authority and relevancy of available resources.
Selecting two or three resources that work together as a theme also builds experience in
collection development. An unexpected benefit of writing for the Seattle Times is a small
degree of fame. People who know me remark that they have read and enjoyed the column I
contribute. Acquiring name recognition with local, Times-reading gardeners will increase
my own reputation as an authority as well as improve fund raising efforts by keeping the
Miller Library name in the public eye.
       The new Garden Tools column provides an important service to gardeners by
highlighting useful, relevant information resources that help gardeners grow better
gardens. Writing the weekly column inspires a strong sense of responsibility to share the
best of the Miller Library collection, while building professional skills like evaluation and
collection development. The Garden Tools column represents another important avenue
by which to serve gardeners, complementing traditional library services like reference.

       New technology emerges every day. Some of which actually saves time and proves
useful. Libraries ride the cutting edge of new technology, attempting to link users with
information in the most efficient, intelligent way. It follows that librarians entering the
field must possess not only expertise in basic office computing and Internet fundamentals,
but also experience in planning and building websites and databases. During the last two
and a half years I have had the opportunity to acquire and develop skills in the areas of web

                                      Page 8/Mehlin Portfolio
site planning and database development. These skills include knowledge of HTML
scripting, web content development and maintenance, web graphic design and network
administration. Below I recount the background and significance of the experience
designing, building and continued development of a contact management database for the
Miller Library, in addition to the contribution to my professional development.

       After manually addressing over four hundred fund raising letters, I decided a
database must be created to at least streamline the mass-mailing process. Renee
Remlinger, another second year iSchool student, and I decided to take on the challenge.
We met with the library staff to determine what library administrative tasks should be
included in the project. The scope grew quickly to include not only a system to manage the
library mailing list, but also to support development efforts and marketing, as well as
circulation management. The Miller Library Communication Management Database
(CMD) project commenced in December 2001.
       Before we formally presented a design proposal to Valerie Easton, the library
manager, Renee and I conversed with the staff, future users of the database, to decide what
types of queries we might want to run and how the data should be defined. Working with
the staff, an Entity Relationship Diagram and data definitions were developed: this
directed the design of the CMD. We choose Microsoft Access because of its easy
availability and the user education offered by UW’s computer support department. We
developed a prototype database and presented it to the library manager along with a two-
part proposal: Phase I focused on contact and correspondence management and Phase II
focused on gift tracking and circulation. Valerie and the rest of the staff signed off on the
design, so Renee and I built the CMD structure and user interface, created a few queries
and wrote data entry guidelines for Phase I. The library staff added the core mailing list
and successfully mail-merged the contact’s addresses into our 2001 Annual Report
mailing. Data entry and application development continues to this day.
       A number of factors contribute to the significance of the CMD project experience.
Although the CMD design was less technically complex than the CD database created for a
class project of LIS 542, Database Design, the library’s database was motivated by a “real
world” need with real users plus a deadline. It had to work, and be usable by the time the
library’s annual report was ready in the April. This pressure increased the feelings of

                                      Page 9/Mehlin Portfolio
responsibility, motivation and perfectionism I felt. This was underscored by defending to
Valerie that building a database would be a good use of my work time, although
considerable “volunteer” hours were spent by Renee and myself to complete the project on
time. The steep learning curve of Access also factor contributed to the significance of this
experience. Having a sound Entity Relationship Diagram and fully normalized design was
certainly critical for the database to work. However, learning how to turn the database
structure into an elegant application proved much more challenging. Finally, the evolving
nature of a project of this scope continues to impact the staff and myself. As we have used
the CMD we find we want different user interfaces than originally conceived, and we also
desire extended functions, such as a place to record additional donor information. Also, I
continue to add programming features to improve data entry efficiency and reduce errors.
       The experience of designing, building and managing the continued development of
the Contacts Management Database contributed to my professional development by
reinforcing skills learned in class and providing a problem to solve. Coursework in
database design focused on structure, while the CMD project presented an opportunity to
develop a complete application with a focus on user interfaces. I gained an appreciation of
the importance of planning and estimating required time inputs, plus an understanding of
user needs and hoped-for outcomes. Additionally, I acquired experience in assigning
priorities to competing goals and learned how to overcome limitations of written user
       Operating a small special library doesn’t always require adopting the latest new
technologies, indeed; the Miller Library’s Online Public Access Catalog only went live in
the fall of 2000. Inevitably, cumbersome manual techniques may become costly enough to
make investment in more modern techniques attractive. After an arduous mass mailing it
was decided that the library could use a database to manage its mailing list, as well as other
library administrative functions like donor relations and circulation. The “real world”
demands of this project increased the significance of the experience, while continued
application improvements contribute to professional development. Combining the
database skills learned with the CMD project with other Web development skills will allow
for even more technological advancements for serving Miller Library users.

                                     Page 10/Mehlin Portfolio
Intellectual Argument
       Thesauri are seemingly dichotomous things – controlling language while improving
accessibility. Thesauri control the language of a domain to provide access to the domain’s
literature. However, the cost of quality access is high. Creating a thesaurus is arduous
work, not to be undertaken on a whim. Many questions must be answered to address the
contextual foundation of the thesaurus, especially why and for whom. After completing the
class project for LIS 537, Thesaurus Construction, I learned exactly how laborious building
a controlled vocabulary is, and how wonderfully useful they really are. What follows is a
brief examination of the lessons I learned from attempting to make a marine biology
thesaurus and the paper I wrote on the nature of contextual information in thesaurus
       My partner, Jodi Robin, and I believed marine biology would be an easy domain to
define; it is simply the study of ocean life. In reality the domain is much more complex and
multidisciplinary than either of us suspected. Trying to include so wide a breadth only
served to weaken the relationships between and within the facets. For example, we felt it
important to include a large percentage of terms that could be considered ecological
concepts because current marine biology research focuses on solving ecological challenges.
However, ecology could be a thesaurus in itself, and therefore was inadequately
represented in our effort to include other facets of the domain like fisheries management
and biology. Trying to force terms into the hierarchy to provide some depth also didn’t
work because we found we confused related terms with truly narrower relationships. Some
of the facets were used as the “top term”, while others were not. This meant that all the
other terms in the facet should have been narrower than the top term (and facet), which
was not the case. The facets were only defined in the introduction, not within the classified
schedule itself or in the notation, so some advantage of using facets was lost by reducing
embedded clues to the structure of the classification. The final lesson we learned from this
exercise was the importance of defining an explicit ordering of terms in order to achieve an
intuitive classification.
       Creating a thesaurus is an enormous undertaking because there are so many
contextual factors to consider before even collecting the first term. The following essay
examines the issue of context when building a thesaurus.

                                     Page 11/Mehlin Portfolio
                               Thesaurus Construction and Context:
                                                A Reflection

         Today’s increasingly high-tech world finds itself drowning in data, yet high quality, useful
information may prove elusive. Businesses are discovering that “Knowledge Management” might
help them efficiently leverage the combined resources of human understanding and experience with
published research and scholarly articles. Two tools traditionally used in the information sciences,
classified hierarchies and thesauri, have been heartily adopted by organizations outside the library
realm. The first popular World Wide Web portal, Yahoo.com, uses directories, or classified
hierarchies, to enable web users to browse predefined categories to find websites of interest. Other
dot-com businesses and organizations followed with hastily constructed taxonomies and ontologies
to try to improve retrieval of all the electronic information now so readily available. Fortunately the
history of developing thesauri is long and well documented. Information professionals have
standards like ISO 2788 that guide vocabulary control, hierarchical relationships and display.2 The
standards fail to fully elucidate on the value of contextual information for thesaurus construction.
By defining the domain, studying the intended users, reviewing the literature, surveying the domain
experts, and detailing the anticipated use, the thesaurus will improve measurably.
         There are no clear boarders between fields of study today. How can one study marine life
without also describing the chemistry of the water, the gravitational draw of the moon directing the
tides and impact of agribusiness 1000 miles inland? The concept that everything affects everything
else is no longer simply an axiom of ecology, but a reality of an increasingly complex world
whether describing international economics, the physical environment or social interactions.
However, a thesaurus is necessarily finite, and even with vast resources to construct and maintain it,
it must have boundaries.
         Practically speaking, thesaurus constructing involves people, perhaps working with
specialized software, who have budget and time constraints and a finished product to deliver. The
scope of the project has to be defined so that a finished product will be recognized as satisfying
requirements. Defining the domain is a major task to accomplish in order to properly define the

 Lancaster, F.W. (1986) Vocabulary Control for Information Retrieval. 2nd Ed. Arlington, VA: Information Resources
Press. Page 33.

                                             Page 12/Mehlin Portfolio
       Defining the domain of the thesaurus will guide subsequent tasks of defining the scope, and
constructing the controlled vocabulary. The questions of what areas of a domain will be included
and excluded need to be answered early on to avoid wasting energy collecting terms and discerning
relationships that wont be used later on. Answers to those questions will come from defining other
parts of the scope, such as the intended users and anticipated use of the thesaurus.
       For example, a thesaurus for the domain of horticulture might exclude (botany) botanical
descriptions of plant parts because the intended users are armature gardeners and extension agents
not interested in technical descriptions, but it could include (botany) scientific names of plants and
their many common name equivalents: a classic situation calling for a controlled vocabulary!
       The audience of the thesaurus is a fundamental question that needs defining early on. Are
they advanced researchers or novice students, the general library using public, or laymen working in
the field? Will the thesaurus be used for searchers of indexes, or indexers of articles or both? Will
the thesaurus be for internal use only for employees using their intranet or for anyone stumbling
upon it? A thesaurus meant for librarians at a special library cataloguing recourses used for
answering reference questions may be more shallow and general than a thesaurus used for health
care workers at a large hospital searching for resources for diagnosing diseases.
       How have users searched without the thesaurus? If it were possible to study search logs of
some previous existing system, with or without a thesaurus, it would prove highly beneficial.
Learning what terms the user uses will not only help define the domain, but guide term harvesting
as well. Are the terms the same ones found in the literature, more specific, or possibly overly
general? The terms mined from search logs could point to areas of previously unrecognized
associations and illustrate information needs. Unsuccessful searches could indicate the need for
vocabulary control. The search log might also document what search strategies the user group used
in the past. Do they use subject searching? Do they want its guidance, and do they need it? Do
they even know what a thesaurus is and how it could help them?
       If we know the users of our imagined horticultural thesaurus will be library staff acting as
indexers for an in house knowledge-base then fewer lead-in terms will be necessary because they
would ostensibly become quite familiar with the vocabulary, and therefore need less cross
references compared to someone on the outside.
       The users will know what a thesaurus is if the builders of the thesaurus seek to serve their
interests. What are they searching for? What are their research questions and areas of concern?

                                        Page 13/Mehlin Portfolio
Answering these questions will also help define the scope of the project, the domain and the level of
granularity expressed by the final thesaurus.
       Literature is the published documentation of a field of study. In academic domains the
literature is generally peer reviewed to insure quality and honesty. A thesaurus is meant to aid the
users in finding relevant literature to his or her research interests. So a thesaurus might be
understood to be a tool used to translate the concepts of specific articles to a user’s search requests,
and vise versa.
       The literature is more than the focus of a users search, but in fact will help define the domain
of concern, provide the majority of terms to be included in the thesaurus, and record the direction of
current research. Textbooks lay out a top level, introduction of the domain, and should help
structure the relationships among terms. Reference materials, such as glossaries and specialized
dictionaries will act as a referee between conflicting sources, while journal articles offer the most
specific terms directly relating to current research interests. Often the authors of journal articles are
the experts that may help define the domain and explain relationships among terms. Articles are
also the primary literature of significance for users of thesauri, so should be central to term
       Other questions about the literature will direct domain definition, term harvesting and user
profiling. What are the terms that are used consistently? Have terms changed over time? Is the
literature academic, technical, popular? Is the literature vast and proliferating or limited?
What formats are represented: text, journal, reference?
       For example, in horticulture good general textbooks exist, but are rarely used for answering
reference questions. For a thesaurus mapping the knowledge base used for answering common
questions the important task would be to reconcile terms harvested from popular magazines and
academic journals. Therefore, the domain would be defined as current thinking and trends in
horticulture, as expressed by current journals and magazines.
       Experts, people as opposed to literature, can provide additional information for thesaurus
development. Experts may be university faculty, industry researchers, or textbook authors. Ideally

                                         Page 14/Mehlin Portfolio
experts will also be potential users of the future thesaurus, but too frequently even the experts are
unaware of the tools available to them to assist their literary research.3
          How do the experts define the domain? They could settle questions arising from conflicts in
the literature, or they may exasperate the questions. What literature do they use, publish in and
recommend for domain insight and term harvesting? As the potential users, what are their areas of
research? What are their areas of concern?
          The expert’s human cognizance of the domain and primary areas of concern are very helpful
to thesaurus builders, but humans also have biases that must be anticipated. Do they know the
whole domain or a small piece? A professor of the ubiquitous college 101 courses may be valuable
for describing a domain overview and relationships between disparate concepts, whereas a
researcher may be more useful for drilling down the depth of a particular facet of the domain. For
instance, the Marine Biology professor may teach top-level concepts of the physical ocean
environment and the organisms that live in it, while the researcher may only be interested in the
physiological factors of agricultural chemicals on coral in the Gulf of Mexico. Both can be useful
in different aspects of domain definition and thesaurus construction.
          The future use of the thesaurus may be the first question answered in the long process of
defining, harvesting, constructing and testing it. Presumably no one would undertake the
monumental work of designing and building a thesaurus without having a very clear need for one in
the first place.
           If the thesaurus will be used for indexing academic journal articles than a majority of terms
should come from the articles themselves. If it used for an intranet for a special library indexing
internal document then the terms should come from the commonly accepted language or jargon of
the people producing the documents. A thesaurus used in an educational setting may have
substantially more lead-in terms, as would a thesaurus for a commercial web site trying to sell more
products. Our horticultural thesaurus used to map the knowledge-base for reference questions, so it
follows that the domain would primarily be defined by the reference questions themselves and the
various resources used to answer the questions.
          Finally, anticipating future growth and maintenance of the thesaurus will draw attention to
the complexity of the display system and extensibility of term notation.
    As presented by the Volcunology and Quautum Mechanics thesaurus teams for LIS 537, May 2002.

                                              Page 15/Mehlin Portfolio
       Contextual information plays an important developmental role in thesaurus construction.
Achieving integration of the domain, the users, literature, experts and intended use of the thesaurus
leads to a holistic understanding of how the thesaurus should look and act. The standards guide
syntax, vocabulary control and relationships, but leave it up to the thesaurus builders to work out
semantic issues of domain and user groups. The fundamental utility of a thesaurus is dependent
upon an effective understanding of the end user. The needs of the end user define the relative
merits of the various information sources and dictate the level to which literature and experts can be
mined to terms and structure. Today’s end user is typically using search systems which are at once
very powerful and underutilized, such as the ubiquitous “query box.” It is the fundamental
challenge of the thesaurus builder to create systems that are transparent to the user but allow that
person to take full advantage of the power of the databases. It is rather an irony of modern
thesaurus creation that as the thesaurus draws closer to perfection it can also become invisible.

                                This concludes my Portfolio.

                                        Page 16/Mehlin Portfolio