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close this bookExpanding Access to Science and Technology (UNU, 1994, 462 pages)
close this folderSession 3: New technologies and media for information retrieval and transfer
close this folderInformation retrieval: Theory, experiment, and operational systems
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentAbstract
View the document1. Scientific communication and information retrieval
View the document2. Anomalous states of knowledge
View the document3. Relevance
View the document4. Early experiments in IR
View the document5. Language
View the document6. Boolean logic, search strategy, and intermediaries
View the document7. Associative methods
View the document8. Probabilistic models
View the document9. Information-seeking behaviour
View the document10. Intelligence
View the documentReferences
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2. Anomalous states of knowledge

We must first of all ask the question, Why does a user (scientist) approach an information retrieval system? The simple answer must be because of a need or wish or imagined need for information. However, the user's perception of this information need deserves some exploration.

In Taylor's classic paper, "Question-Negotiation and Information Seeking in Libraries" [14], four stages are identified:

(1) the visceral need (i.e. the user's gut feeling of a need for information);
(2) the verbalized need (the user's first attempt to put the information requirement into words);
(3) the formalized need (the user's expression of the requirement in terms acceptable to the system);
(4) the compromised need (the user's revised expression of the requirement after negotiation with the system).

The last two stages relate to the user's interaction with the system, which is discussed later.

Belkin has further analysed the origins of the visceral need. A user has a state of knowledge of the world, an internal knowledge structure of great complexity. The perception of an information need arises from a perceived problem with some part of this knowledge structure (which may not be a simple gap but some internal inconsistency, conflict with evidence, or whatever). Belkin has called this the "anomalous state of knowledge," or ASK [3]

The ASK hypothesis potentially has strong consequences for the design of information retrieval systems. Most systems in effect demand that the users specify the piece of information that they require, and aim to provide the items that fit the specification. The ASK hypothesis suggests instead a problem-solving approach, where the system cooperates with the user in an attempt to solve the perceived problem (or resolve the anomaly).

Although some of the ideas discussed below predate the ASK hypothesis and involve a rather more traditional approach to IR system design, the ASK idea will inform my discussion throughout. Something like the problem-solving approach will recur in later sections.