Saturday, July 10, 2010

Reflection on Weedman’s View of Information Systems: A Mini Case Study

My professional focus has been in information publishing and, therefore, Chapter 11 of The Portable MLIS was very interesting as it provided a customer perspective of the information publishing field. (Weedman, 2008). In my reflection, I will provide some specific examples of how the information publishing company I work for has intersected with some of the issues Weedman raises in her design and search sections.

Weedman states that when designing a system one should focus on “learning everything you can about the people who will be using the IR system”. (Weedman, 2008, p. 115). We use inexpensive, somewhat expensive and very expensive methods for learning more about our customers in support of design efforts. One inexpensive technique we have used is to employ information gleaned from customer interactions with our phone support staff to determine if our market requires new products or features to augment existing offerings. In the more expensive category, I have participated in market research sessions where we share a database design and then conduct qualitative and/or quantitative market research to determine if the features meet or exceed the market’s needs. Other sessions have examined customers’ experiences with our systems by capturing their mouse clicks and eye movement on the screen. This helps us determine if the design of our system is intuitive and efficient. Our most expensive approach is embedding ourselves in our customers’ offices observing how they search, when they search and why they search in our content. This laborious method has resulted in some of our most innovative and successful new products.

Design is engaging, challenging and inspiring work. Many times, though, working within our legacy systems’ search constraints is draining. As Weedman shares, “How the document is represented affects the ability to retrieve it”. (Weedman, 2008, p. 124). We hadn’t had a major infrastructure overhaul from the 1970s until a few years ago. As a market leader, we were a victim of our own success and did not have a driving force encouraging us to redesign our platform. As our market became more technologically sophisticated and Google searching ubiquitous, we struggled making our now archaic information systems seem not so archaic. Customers were frustrated because in order to find an on-point document, the customer first had to know which one of the tens of thousands of databases it resided in. This seems ridiculous by today’s standards but until the recent past, this was still considered industry-leading legal research.

Our recent major investment in a platform redesign has facilitated customer searching greatly. As Weedman states, "a user's need has to be represented in a way that the system can process." (Weedman, 2008, p. 125). The redesign was successful because the embedded market research enabled us to experience first-hand our customers' frustrations and then use this information to create a system that enables very efficient searching.


Weedman, J. (2008). Information retrieval: Designing, querying, and evaluating information systems. In K. Haycock & B. E. Sheldon (Eds.), The portable MLIS: Insights from the experts (pp. 112-126). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

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