According to Baeza-Yates and Ribeiro-Neto, information retrieval is defined as “providing the users with easy access to information of their interest,” and more specifically “deals with the representation, storage, organization, and access to information items.” To examine this concept more fully, it’s important to carefully consider each term within the phrase “information retrieval.”
What is information?
Both the Baeza-Yates/Ribeiro-Neto and Chu textbooks talk about the concept of “information,” but I prefer to think about it as discussed in a textbook we are using in another course, Taylor, A. G., & Joudrey, D. N. (2004). The organization of information (p. 3). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited. In it, the term “information” is examined along the continuum, “data, information, knowledge, understanding, wisdom,” and the authors relay that “information” has a value-add component to it that “data” does not – a meaning or context has been added to the material, and in order for that to happen an organization process has to take place, transforming “data” into “information.”
What is retrieval?
Chu further considers “retrieval,” distinguishing “information access” from “information seeking” or “information searching,” stating that “access” focuses on the action of “getting,” while “seeking” centers on the user’s pursuit of information and “searching” is focused on the process of that pursuit.
The concept of “matching” as an aspect of “retrieval” as discussed in the Chu textbook also resonated with me. In order for an item of information to “match” a user’s query, there are a number of steps that must precede its delivery, including representation, indexing and ranking. Each of these is a subject for further explanation of itself!