Online LLE Reviewer: Role of Indexing and Abstracting in Information Retrieval

I am sharing some of my class notes and reviewers to help test-takers of the Librarians Licensure Examination in the Philippines. This page includes the role of indexing and abstracting in information retrieval and searching.

Information retrieval - term for the processes and procedures of searching documents, images, data, and personal information from information stores such as a library, database, or the internet. It usually refers to data, documents, text, and images.

Information retrieval is a process and a system is the mechanism or way to carry out the process. An information retrieval system is capable of storing, retrieving, and maintaining information.

Database: A large, regularly updated file of digitized information (bibliographic records, abstracts, full-text documents, directory entries, images, statistics, etc.) related to a specific subject or field, consisting of records of uniform format organized for ease and speed of search and retrieval and managed with the aid of database management system (DBMS) software. Content is created by the database producer (for example, the American Psychological Association), which usually publishes a print version (Psychological Abstracts) and leases the content to one or more database vendors (EBSCO, OCLC, etc.) that provide electronic access to the data after it has been converted to machine-readable form (PsycINFO), usually on CD-ROM or online via the Internet, using proprietary search software.

Most databases used in libraries are catalogs, periodical indexes, abstracting services, and full-text reference resources leased annually under licensing agreements that limit access to registered borrowers and library staff. (Source: Online Dictionary of Library and Information Science).

Data bases have two categories:

  • Bibliographic. Collection of bibliographic records to the published literature that provides access to the literature through citations or abstracts
  • Non-bibliographic. Cover a wide range of other databases - stores of facts, figures, graphics, full text journals and books, images, etc. Data may be numeric or representational.

Full text database contains the complete text of each document rather than just a reference or an abstract. Full-text searching means that every word in a text is an index term.

Information Retrieval System

  • Information retrieval system is a mechanism for carrying out the functions of information retrieval process.
  • Organization of information may take in different forms (manual, by the use of computer or a combination of both).
  • Most challenging problem: providing for the nearest possible response or coincidence
  • Modern information retrieval systems: data retrieval, reference retrieval and text retrieval.

Functions involved in Searching for Information:

  • The information is created and acquired for the system.
  • Knowledge records are analyzed and tagged by set of index terms.
  • The knowledge records are stored physically and index terms are stored into a structured file.
  • The user’s query is tagged with sets of index terms and then is matched against tagged records.
  • Matched documents are retrieved for review.
  • Feedback may lead to several reiterations of the search.

Purposes and Uses of Indexes

  • Saves time and effort in finding information.
  • Identify potentially relevant information in the document or collection being indexed.
  • Analyze concepts treated in a document to produce appropriate index headings based on the indexing language assigned.
  • Indicate relationships among terms.
  • Group together related topics.
  • Direct the users seeking information under terms not chosen as index headings to headings that have been chosen.
  • Suggest related topics.
  • Tool for current awareness services.

The Information Cycle

Structure of Information
  • Information may be structured by evolving complexity:
  • Symbols are the beginning of formalized communication.
  • Words and numbers are symbols combined to convey meaning at a higher level.
  • Data express discrete occurrences.
  • Information is the result of processing data and giving meaning to it.
  • Knowledge is the result of the information being absorbed and causing some change.
  • Wisdom results in proper decisions being made with the newly formed knowledge.

Shannon and Weaver, in a classical monograph published in 1949 titled The Mathematical Theory of Communication, suggested that communication can be conceptualized on three levels:
  • Technical
  • Semantics
  • Influential (effectiveness)
"The technical level is concerned with the physical transfer of discrete symbols  from a sender to a receiver. The second, the semantic  level  deals  with  the meaning of the  message.  At  this  level  we  are  concerned  with  the ambiguousness in language and meaning. The third level (influential)deals with  the reaction or results. This level is concerned with the relevance of  the information. How does the receiver react to the message?

If I send this message: X2#$%&* then you will be puzzled. There has been a breakdown in the physical transfer of symbols. My handwriting is so poor that your receptors cannot read it. If I try again and very carefully write the word base, then the physical transfer is complete. But am I discussing with you a number system? Chemical materials? Fort Knox? Baseball?Tiffany lamps? The problem now is semantic.

Suppose that when I write base on the board in the classroom, a student in the back of the room throws a book against the wall and storms out of the room. It turns out that the student has just finished a bitter divorced with an army sergeant at Fox Knox. The word base hits when it hurts. Now, we are talking about reaction to the information, or effectiveness.

Information professionals have dealt very well with the first level, as evidence by gigantic information resource we have managed to store in libraries and computers around the world. The physical information is there and can be clearly read.

Unfortunately, we have not been as successful as we need to be on the other levels. On the semantic level, we have been developed methods of cataloging and indexing, but we have room for improvement and new challenges are presented daily. On the third level, we are just beginning to understand how people search for and use information.

These are three levels are not independent of each other and in communication structure they must be addressed as interrelated to each other. This model is appropriate to indexing and abstracting. At the technical level, an index must be in an appropriate language, must have an understandable   format and a clear procedure for using the index. At the technical level, the signal must get through with a minimum of noise. At the semantic level is the heart of the indexing problem. Words must convey meanings without ambiguity. At the third level, the index must correctly identify relevant information, that is, it must be effective. (Cleveland and Cleveland, 2013). 

Relationship of Indexing, Abstracting, and Searching

A good index improves the user’s use of index terms and all the variants and interpret retrieval results. Good indexing is related to the searching stage if information retrieval.

The index and the abstract are devices for searching. It is their main purpose. The goal of indexing and abstracting is to represent the content of the item in terms that searchers can understand.

“The effectiveness and efficiency of accessing and retrieving information depends on how well it is organized. The tools for this are indexing and abstracting. An information retrieval system is only as good as its indexing. A good index will help the users find the exact information needed.”

Description: The broken lines indicate the path taken by the patron, who essentially works backwards on the indexing and abstracting path. Although not shown in the diagram, the patron may also use indexing tools (thesaurus or classification lists) to facilitate the use of the index. Notice the patron line from the index to the abstract. Abstracts are sometimes approached by an index, especially if the abstract has a classified arrangement.

Reitz, J. M. (2014). Online dictionary for library and information science. Danbury: Western Connecticut State University.

Cleveland, D.B. and Cleveland, A.D. (2013). Introduction to Indexing and Abstracting. 4th ed. Sta. Barbara, Calif.: Libraries Unlimited.

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