Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Shiri, Ali. Powering Search: The Role of Thesauri in New Information Environments. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc., 2012. ISBN 978-1-57387-454-0.
Powering Search: The Role of Thesauri in New Information Environments, a title published in the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T) Monograph Series, is a bold attempt to lay a foundation for thesauri use and integration with search interfaces: pulling together research, scholarship, and development from across broadly divergent areas. The author, Ali Shiri, is associate professor of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, and holds a doctorate in information science in addition to bachelorís and masterís degrees in library and information science. Further adding to his credentials, the author has published extensively on thesaurus-enhanced user search interfaces in academic journal literature.
The monograph delivers a treatment that is part extended scholarly article and part textbook targeted at students in courses of information science and technology. The first several chapters present perhaps the most thorough treatment and background of theoretical underpinnings of the topic that this reviewer has seen to-date. Throughout, the text adheres closely to a pattern of literature review, followed by presentation of examples, and instructional critique. It is in the presentation and critique of examples that the hardcover edition reviewed shows weakness; the text would have benefited from a decision to include the numerous illustrative snapshots of search interfaces as color plates rather than and black and white figures. Color is a significant aspect of interface design and usability, and is unfortunately lost in the print edition; it is to be hoped that the newly available electronic book edition of the book doesnít share the same flaw.
The organization of the text is straightforward, building from a thorough introduction to the concept of thesauri, through interactive information retrieval, to user-centered approach, including query formulation and expansion; a pattern that is then repeated in more depth with a focus on web-based search. The second half of the book is focused primarily on design matters, and builds from methodologies for user evaluation to design guidelines and current trends and developments. Each of the ten chapters of the text closes with a References section, keeping them immediately to hand; a feature that will no doubt be appreciated by scholar and researcher alike. It bears mention, however, that the overall focus never strays far from traditional library practice; given the pervasive use of thesauri-enhanced search engines outside of that realm, it would have been nice to hear the authorís insights as to the rapidly evolving mechanisms behind their operation and their potential import to library search interfaces.
Powering Search provides a thorough treatment of the topic, and earns a rightful place on the shelf of the researcher as well as that of the practitioner; librarians and information science professionals unfamiliar with the topic may find it to be of particular use. The author has delivered on a much-needed overview of thesauri across the landscape of traditional library practice, and a solid step in the direction of a unified treatment overall; academic libraries and those supporting programs of library and information sciences would do well to consider adding the title to their collection.