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Mental Models of Information Retrieval Systems. SIGs USE, DL, HCI, CR

Efthimis N. Efthimiadis David G. Hendry Pamela Savage-Knepshield Carol Tenopir Peiling Wang

Presented at ASIST 2004 Annual Meeting; "Managing and Enhancing Information: Cultures and Conflicts" (ASIST AM 04), Providence, Rhode Island, November 13 - 18, 2004


Search engines have become cultural artifacts. Almost all of us use them. We ‘Google’ people, etc. Search engines are gatekeepers to content, services, and opportunities. Thus, those who know how to make the most of search engines are better able to participate in society. Search engines are exciting! They give us an opportunity to generate interest in technology and consider how technology can make information better. People bring mental models in their interaction with a retrieval system. These models allow people to reason about how the system operates, what kind of input should be provided and what the output means. There appears to be great diversity in our mental models for information systems. These models are often very simple, they contain misconceptions, and they evolve as we experience new systems.

The papers in this session look at different aspects of mental models that employ when interacting with information retrieval systems. Savage-Knepshield investigated factors that may affect searchers’ mental model construction, including: the level of detail that a system’s conceptual model presents to the user through explicit training, repeated system exposure, and type of searching task.

Tenopir and Wang observed science students finding information in electronic journals for a simulated class assignment. Student verbalizations of their reactions to the search process, electronic journals, and information found allow the authors to draw some conclusions about students' mental models and their problem-solving strategies.

Hendry and Efthimiadis’ research investigates how people conceptualize search engines. What do they know about how they work? What common misunderstandings do they have? How do they express their understandings? In short, what is the nature of people’s mental models for search engines? To answer these questions the authors prompted university students to draw sketches of how an internet search engine works.

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