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Creating user-centred authority files: The LEAF-project
Starting in March 2001, LEAF Linking and Exploring Authority Files, is a three-year
project, co-funded by the European Commission Information Society Technologies
Programme to develop a model architecture for a distributed search system that harvests
existing name authority information.The goal is to automatically establish a user needs-
based common name authority file in a specific sector highly relevant to the cultural
heritage of Europe.
The project results will be implemented by extending an existing, fully functional, inter-
national online Search and Retrieval service network of OPACs that provides information
about modern manuscripts and letters and the MALVINE project.This search and retrieval
service will also be extended into a global multilingual and multimedia information service
about persons and corporate bodies based on user needs.The model architecture is intended
to be applicable to other kinds of cultural/scientific objects and data, ensuring through the
use of authority file information that the representation of the objects in question is one of
high quality.
The LEAF demonstrator will thus provide a valuable example of how dynamic user
interaction with the cultural/scientific content can considerably enhance the user
experience. (cf. LEAF Homepage)
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Standardised vocabulary or intelligent guides?
In the expert community, however, the issue of terminology standardisation and the
creation of controlled vocabulary is not uncontroversial. As Mark Jones, Director and Chief
Executive Officer of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK, remarks:"I think, that
[building controlled vocabulary] has proven to be an excellent way of wasting an enormous
amount of money and effort without achieving the advertised result." (DigiCULT
Interview, August 9 - 10, 2001) Although Jones sees the benefit in some areas, for example
geographical place names, he also believes that those in favour of controlled vocabulary
underestimate the complex way of how language is used by different communities today, as
well as over time."People underestimate the flexibility, malleability, the changeability of
English [and any other language] as a tool of communication and that is why they keep
running into problems." And he adds:"I do not think these problems are solvable".
Instead of controlled vocabulary, Mark Jones suggests a different approach to increase the
quality of search results, i.e. intelligent guiding. Intelligent guides would support users in
their search, for example through reference to a list of synonyms (for example, sofa instead
of settee) or by referring to the search results of other users (recommender systems) or by
providing access to the knowledge of the institutional experts. Instead of investing money
for building controlled vocabulary, users should be empowered by intelligent types of
"helps" that put them into the position to find what they need themselves.
In the future, both approaches will be indispensable. Even if 80% of the current audience
do not use specialised indexes to search, the other 20% are the experts and scholars that rely
on controlled vocabulary.To them, they provide real value added. On the other side,
promoting intelligent guides they maybe rely on the specialised vocabulary, yet they are
hidden and invisible to the user to also provide ordinary users with higher quality results
will be equally necessary.