Evaluation of Thesaurus Enhanced Search Systems

Evaluation of Interface, British Humanities Index

The thesaurus can be reached from the main page by clicking on 'advanced search' and then the 'thesaurus' link at the bottom of the advanced search page. It can also be found through the 'tools' link as one of the tool tabs in the local navigation.

The first thesaurus page is a single search box that is labeled "Browse Thesaurus for". While they describe it as browsing this is really a search function. After a search is performed it then becomes possible to browse through the thesaurus both by looking for the terms alphabetically around the term searched and by following the relational hierarchy of the thesaurus. When a search is performed there are options for how to display the results, as well as descriptions of what these display types are. All of the terms are links to their specific hierarchical display. The exception to this is that the non-preferred terms within the preferred term's display are not linked back to their own record. This makes sense, as the non-preferred record would only be a link back to the preferred term. There are terms in the thesaurus with no relationships, which is not a good system. The term 'art in public places' is an example of this happening.

Selecting thesaurus terms with which to search the database is very simple. All of the preferred terms have boxes beside them within the database. Marking the box then selects the term to search the database. One of the best features of this thesaurus is that it is possible to mark a record and continue browsing through the thesaurus to find more terms. Rather than performing different searches and then combining them the initial search can be for combined terms. On the left side of the screen there is an option to create the search with AND or OR as well as a brief explanation of what the terms do. There is a note at the top of the thesaurus listing of how many records are listed at the moment and at the bottom of the page there is a record of the selected terms. This makes it simple to keep track of how many terms you have saved at the moment and go back to the database and search.

There is a link to the help function on every page and a help file for the thesaurus. It is a generic file for the thesauri of all of the CSA databases and not for the BHI thesaurus in particular. While it is good that there is a help feature it does not give that much information. Most of what is included is a more in depth description of what the difference is between the different types of displays. It mentions the fact that the [+] symbol means there are narrower terms but does not explain how to use the boxes or how to use the terms to search back in the database. These functions are relatively intuitive and explained on the page but the help should include them as they are not a standard feature. The use of the screenshots within the help is not the best use of the space either. Rather than providing the whole screen when so little changes or matters to the topic on hand it would have been better to use partial screenshots and keep the size of the graphics within the size of the window that opens.

Contact Author
School of Library and Information Studies - University of Alberta