Browsing and searching in a faceted information space: A naturalistic study of PubMed users' interaction with a display tool



The study adopts a naturalistic approach to investigate users' interaction with a browsable MeSH (medical subject headings) display designed to facilitate query construction for the PubMed bibliographic database. The purpose of the study is twofold: first, to test the usefulness of a browsable interface utilizing the principle of faceted classification; and second, to investigate users' preferred query submission methods in different problematic situations.

An interface that incorporated multiple query submission methods—the conventional single-line query box as well as methods associated the faceted classification display was constructed. Participants' interactions with the interface were monitored remotely over a period of 10 weeks; information about their problematic situations and information retrieval behaviors were also collected during this time. The traditional controlled experiment was not adequate in answering the author's research questions; hence, the author provides his rationale for a naturalistic approach.

The study's findings show that there is indeed a selective compatibility between query submission methods provided by the MeSH display and users' problematic situations. The query submission methods associated with the display were found to be the preferred search tools when users' information needs were vague and the search topics unfamiliar.

The findings support the theoretical proposition that users engaging in an information retrieval process with a variety of problematic situations need different approaches. The author argues that rather than treat the information retrieval system as a general purpose tool, more attention should be given to the interaction between the functionality of the tool and the characteristics of users' problematic situations.