Digital scholarship blog

20 July 2018

Conference on Human Information Interaction and Retrieval

This a guest post is by Carol Butler, who is doing a collaborative PhD research project with the Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design at City University of London and the British Library on the topic of  new technologies challenging author and reader roles. There is an introduction to her project in this previous post, and you can follow her on twitter as @fantomascarol.

The cold weather back in March seems a distant memory with all the warm weather we've been having recently. However, earlier in the year I braved the snow with my Doc Martens and woolly hat to visit New Brunswick, NJ, for the annual ACM SIGIR Conference on Human Information Interaction and Retrieval (CHIIR), hosted this year by Rutgers University.

An intimate and welcoming conference with circa 130 attendees, CHIIR (pronounced ‘cheer’) attracts academics and industry professionals from the fields of Library and Information Science and Human Computer Interaction. I went to present early findings from my PhD study at their Doctoral Consortium, from which I have my first ever academic publication and where I gained helpful feedback and insight from a group of senior academics and fellow PhD students. Most notable was the help of Hideo Joho from the University of Tsukuba, who kindly shared his time for a one-to-one mentoring session.

A single-track conference, I was able to attend the majority of talks. In the main, presentations looked at better understanding how people search for information using digital tools and catalogues, and how we can improve their experience beyond offering the standard ’10 blue links’ we have come to expect from search results. Examples included early-stage research into search interfaces that understand vocal, ‘conversational’ enquiries and the new challenges this may present, and concepts such as VR goggles that can show us useful information about the world around us.

As well as seeking to better connect people with useful new information, talks also detailed how people re-find information they’ve already seen, for example in emails; on Twitter; or from their entire browsing history and file directory. There were also fascinating discussions about how people search in different languages, whether switching between languages fluidly if bilingual, or through viewing search results in different languages, side by side.

How people learn from the information they find was an important and tricky issue raised by a number of speakers, reminding us that finding information is not, in fact, the end goal. All in all, it was a very thought-provoking and enjoyable conference, and I am thankful to the organisers (ACM SIGIR), who awarded me a student travel grant to enable me to attend. Next year’s conference is considerably closer to home, in Glasgow, for more details check out http://sigir.org/chiir2019 – I very much hope to go again, and maybe I'll see some of you there!

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2018-07-20/9d9e6481-4a8e-4919-9355-7792cf332880.png
Not all UX problems are digital : I concluded my journey with a fascinating chat with the conductor on the train home, who shared top secret info about how he and his colleagues workaround usability problems with their paper ticketing process

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