A Closer Look at MLIS Core Courses—INFO 202 Information Retrieval System Design

iStudent Blog

When I first enrolled at San Jose State’s information school, I must confess, INFO 202 was the class I avoided. Why? Because the term ‘system’ made me think of rows and rows of super-computers and having to know how to program in at least a dozen different computer languages. I needn’t have worried—Information Retrieval System Design is taught completely in the English language. You’ll use language to think about the way others use language, especially when searching for information. And it’s fascinating!

INFO 202 made me completely rethink the way I search and browse, why I search and browse, and why everybody else searches and browses. If you’ve ever used a website or a search engine, then you will probably find the notion of controlled vocabularies and search queries not only understandable but really interesting, too. As Dr. Virginia Tucker, information school instructor and the course coordinator for INFO 202 says, “The class is about design elements, understanding users’ needs, making information findable, understanding the structure of data and making it accessible.” Dr. Tucker is coordinating the course as of this fall, after the retirement of Dr. Judy Weedman, who had been the LIBR 202 coordinator for many years.

INFO 202 is the foundation for many elective classes— such as database management, web usability, archive management, and cataloging and design courses. It is a prerequisite for LIBR 210 Reference and Information Services, a class I took that was interesting for all the ways it explored finding the right information from the most relevant sources. LIBR 202 gave me the foundation I needed to understand how people, especially myself, searched for information.

In INFO 202, we worked on assignments and participated in discussions that built on one another so that when it came time to build a database, we were already familiar with the steps we needed to take. “Content is progressive,” says Tucker. “The exercises build skills for larger projects, as well as give the students practice in tasks they will use on the job.” In Dr. Tucker’s class, we participated in a group project, building a database using a controlled vocabulary. Beginning last fall, students enrolled in 202 use a web-based program to build their databases.

In my INFO 202 class, we discussed classification, and how we organize and classify things in our lives. I discussed how I organized the clothes in my kids’ closets—who got hand-me-downs from whom, what items were outgrown and went to charity, and which items were so worn out they had to go in the trash—a subject that wasn’t at all ‘tech-y,’ but completely applicable to the discussion. Other students discussed what they did to classify their grandmother’s recipes, and how they organized recycled lumber for a home improvement project.

“Concepts that we study in the course, such as organizing, classifying and tagging, apply to life,” says Tucker. “Using a critical eye is fun—seeing how website browsing does and doesn’t work.” Skills learned in 202 are also used in the public libraries. Ever taken a library survey? Surveys like these are based on controlled vocabularies and user needs. When you start to notice how a certain website is designed and how search terms are used, chances are, you’re looking at the work of an information professional.

And if it does get scary? You can always email the professor and ask a question, but it’s very likely someone else has the same question, too. Post it in the discussion forum and you’ll probably see others chime in about their struggles, successful techniques or questions. While discussion posts are a requirement for most information school courses, it benefits both your learning and your sense of connection to actively engage in class. Talking to other classmates will help give you a sense that you’re all in this together. Plus, it’s nice to know people better when it comes time to do group projects.

INFO 202 is a great foundation for information science, because it just helps it all make sense. It can even make Amazon and Google make sense. I was scared to take this class, and so I saved it for last, taking my other core courses first, but once I began to understand the basic concepts, information-seeking became really interesting. I even go back and flip through one of my required textbooks sometimes—just for fun! Information is everywhere and information about information is essential to making it accessible.

The MLIS program’s core classes—INFO 200, INFO 202, INFO 204—are all part of building a solid foundation in learning about information professions, information systems and information-seeking behaviors, and information system structure and management. Over the next several weeks, the blog will take a closer look at all three of the core classes and what makes them so exciting.

What topics about 202 sound interesting to you? Let’s talk about them.

What to expect in INFO 200—Information Communities

What to expect in INFO 203

Online Learning—How do I Talk to People

What to expect in INFO 204– Information Professions

image courtesy of  Stuart Miles