Today’s post will investigate faceted search, an innovative that streamlines going through search results. I first discovered faceted search by using the catalogue at the University of Toronto where I studied for my Master of Information Studies degree. It was introduced as part of a major catalogue upgrade and it is the feature that I use most. As the Library has such a vast collection, I almost always use facets to limit by language (as I did in the example at the top of this post but I also often limit by library and publication date. Some of this could have been accomplished with the advanced search options but faceted search lets me eliminate results that I am not interested in. Based on some recent OCLC research, it looks like I am in the minority however; users they studied like the option but rarely used it.
Technologically, faceted search only became available this decade but the concept has a deeper history. Noted Indian library theorist S.R. Ranganathan is credited (who proposed a colon based scheme) with inspiring one company, Endeca, in the development of its faceted search tools. This is another example of the long and productive inspiration that library science has provided to IT development – I have also heard that citation analysis served as inspiration for the founders of Google. Some may think that the arts and sciences of librarians are under threat from computers and search engines, but this view could not be more mistaken. Collaboration has been the rule in the past and that looks set to continue.
Why is faceted search important for libraries? It matters because it encourages thinking about taxonomies and how information is organized. This is one of two major types of information retrieval according to the Special Interest Group on Information Retrieval of the Association for Computing Machinery which stated in 2006 (Thanks to Wikipedia for pointing this out to me):
* Navigational search uses a hierarchy structure (taxonomy) to enable users to browse the information space by iteratively narrowing the scope of their quest in a predetermined order, as exemplified by Yahoo! Directory, DMOZ, etc.
* Direct search allows users to simply write their queries as a bag of words in a text box. This approach has been made enormously popular by Web search engines, such as Google and Yahoo! Search.
I’m sure that most searching people do involves the use of direct search methods, so any switch to taxonomy based methods will be difficult. Facets can help organize information better, but people resist them as they are unfamiliar. The other reason that I think facets are worthwhile is that the better demonstrate the different criteria by which a given item is catalogued. When working with millions of books or other documents, this type of organization makes the task go by faster. It is especially needed in a large research institution where the very richness of the collection can defeat efforts to find something relevant. The example shown at the top of this example is organized as a series of text boxes, but that is not the only way to display it.
My question for readers today is whether you find faceted search to be an improvement over non-faceted systems? For librarians; does it make it easier to educate users about collections are organized?