Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Beyond Subject Headings: A Structured Information Retrieval Tool for Interdisciplinary Fields

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Beyond Subject Headings: A Structured Information Retrieval Tool for Interdisciplinary Fields

Article excerpt

Higher education at the start of the twenty-first century is characterized by an increasing number of interdisciplinary fields. Accordingly, the library world is grappling with several important information access issues, including the need to identify relationships within interdisciplinary topics where information is proliferating and locating appropriate resources is increasingly difficult. The relevance and usefulness of controlled vocabularies such as" the Library of Congress Subject Headings in emerging interdisciplinary fields and the suitability of conventional library tools for organizing and accessing digital information are in question. This paper discusses the role an ontology representing a subject domain can play in addressing these issues and uses women's studies as an example of an interdisciplinary field. This paper also proposes a methodology to identify ontology terms and their relationships in the field of women's studies that has potential application to other interdisciplinary fields.

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Interdisciplinary fields in higher education are continuing to increase. Traditional organization and classification of knowledge is, in consequence, less relevant, as scholars from different backgrounds produce research that spans familiar boundaries. In response, the libray world struggles with:

* the need to identify relationships within interdisclipinary topics where information is proliferating and locating appropriate resources is increasingly difficult;

* questions about the relevance and usefulness of controlled vocabularies, such as the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), in emerging fields; and

* the suitability of conventional library tools for organizing and accessing digital information in the age of Google.

This paper will explore the role an ontology representing a subject domain (specifically, women's studies) can play in addressing these challenges.

Noy and McGinness define ontology as "a common vocabulary for researchers who need to share information in a domain. It includes machine-interpretable definitions of basic concepts and the relations among them." (1) The ontology representing a subject domain can be used in many applications to enhance access to relevant information through its ability to explicitly specify the semantic relationship between concepts expressed in mark-up language computers can parse. The ontology can support libraries in the organization and discovery of information to benefit their users. Its use behind the scenes can contextualize user-generated keyword searches and direct searches to relevant library resources by mapping to corresponding LCSH in library catalogs, thus providing meaningful overlay and optimizing access to interdisciplinary information. LCSH generally expresses relationships in a hierarchical manner, through topics and subtopics. However, in interdisciplinary fields, terminology represents both peer and subordinate concepts. An ontology can provide the end user with a macro-level view of the predominant concepts and also can drill down to contextualized and domain-specific terms and relationships that can then explicitly map behind the scenes to the hierarchical approach taken by LCSH. This paper proposes a methodology to identify ontology terms useful in the field of women's studies and their relationships. This methodology has potential application to other interdisciplinary fields.

Interdisciplinarity and the Web

Interdisciplinarity requires key knowledge of the concepts in more than one field, as well as familiarity with theoretical methodologies from different disciplines. The impact of this research trend for information organization and access is significant. LCSH terms, used in libraries as subject access points in integrated library systems, are a legacy system, heavily hierarchical in design, authority-based, and slow to define and represent new terms for emerging fields and concepts. …

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