Evaluation of Thesaurus Enhanced Search Systems



Evaluation of Interface, UK Data Archive


Finding the way to the search function at the UKDA is not the easiest task. The structure of the main page is technically quite good, clear categories and all links seen without scrolling for example, however which category the thesaurus is under is not clear. There is a small search box in the very top corner that could reach it, but that only searches the content of the archive and the web site in general. even the main search function is not highlighted or emphasized as compared to the other links on the page.

Once the main search for the catalogue is entered there is a link for the humanities and social science electronic thesaurus (HASSET) on the sidebar. This is the thesaurus that the UKDA has created for indexing their data. As with the BHI a search must first be performed before the thesaurus is accessible. The display that results from the search is an alphabetical list of all the terms containing the search terms. The search includes the term in the results even if the searched word is only a portion of the thesaurus entry. The results list can then be seen as a rotated display. This partial matching has both positive and negative aspects. It is good that there could be automatic truncation of your search term as well as ease of finding partial matches. It becomes more difficult when the word searched is one that can be part of many different words. For example, the first term that I searched for in the thesaurus was 'art history'. The first important quirk to note is that if there is more than one term in the search bow each is searched separately. Next is that, while a list of terms with the word 'art' in them would have been helpful, a list of all the terms that have the letters a-r-t in them is not. There were well over one hundred word in the list, most of which had nothing to do with art at all. The only redeeming factor to the list is that the main term I needed was at the beginning of the alphabet. When a search starts from within the thesaurus this does not happen.

When a term is selected from the initial list it is linked to a keyword in context hierarchical display of the relationships for the term. The other terms are links that lead to their own hierarchical displays. The catalogue can be searched from these displays. Discovering this information was not completely intuitive. To find the note on how to use the checkboxes it is necessary to scroll down and read what looks quite similar to the general site information that is usually at the bottom of a webpage. The search button is also out of sight below the 'crease' in the screen.

Using the search button has difficulties in itself. It is not intuitive that in order to search the current term there is no need to click a box but there is boxes for searching narrower and related terms. The description of how to use the search function does not include this information. The instruction "to search the catalogue for one or more terms, check boxes to include Narrower terms and/or Related terms in your search then click on the "Search on Keyword" button below" provides the information about what the boxes are for, but does not indicate how to search for the current term. Unlike in the BHI there is no method to search for two terms if they do not have a relationship: it is also not possible to select a specific term within a relationship to search.

There is no help feature linked on the page once you are in the thesaurus search. You can go through the 'support' link to find the help desk, FAQ, and other support functions. The help desk is not an online help, but the contact information for the organization. The FAQ does not include any questions on how to use the thesaurus but are very general questions, mostly about the content of the database. There is a link to an outside site that has training tutorials that might help for using databases. It is difficult to imagine many people go through the process to get help with anything specific within the thesaurus.


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