Lenses for My Research Project into Search

This year, I hope to embark on a series of interrelated projects that will help me better understand how students at the college where I work understand search with respect to online systems. I’ve got some very practical and pressing needs that this research connects to; specifically, I want to do some design work on the main search box on our library website:

Search box at Baruch College library website
While I could just do some rounds of usability testing, I think I want to dig deeper given that the stakes seem to be so high here. The search boxes connect up to many different resources that taken together represent major investments from our budget and our staff’s time. I do intend to do some testing, but I’m also thinking about analyzing query logs, surveying students, and conducting interviews or focus groups. I hope that out of this work, I’ll find some generalizable results worth publishing.

To see this problem from various perspectives, I’ve started doing some reading, looking for texts that will serve as method sources in any publications I produce. I’ve started reading works by Carol Kuhlthau to learn more about the information seeking process model she identified. Her model seems like an essential one that will ground my observation and analysis.

Another area where I’ve started doing some reading is social informatics. As it turns out, I’ll be teaching the library’s 3-credit course in social informatics this fall and need to get up to speed fast, as it will be the first time I’ve taught the class. I’m hoping that the work of Robert Kling and others will give me a broader perspective on how students conceive of search in a world characterized by rapid changes in information communication technologies. In his 1999 article, “What Is Social Informatics and Why Does It Matter,” Kling defines social informatics as “the interdisciplinary study of the design, uses and consequences of information technologies that takes into account their interaction with institutional and cultural contexts.” While web design typically takes into account common affordances from the web that you can assume your users are familiar with, I think I want to look more broadly at how students’ conception of “search” is shaped by the institutional context of being a CUNY student and the cultural contexts of search (e.g., what aspects of culture connect up with how they conceive of and typically use search systems).

I hope my readers here will indulge me a bit as I use this blog as a space to try out some of these ideas I’d like to bring into my analysis.