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portal: Libraries and the Academy 4.2 (2004) 304-305

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Information Representation and Retrieval in the Digital Age, Heting Chu. Medford, NJ: Information Today, 2003. 248 p. $44.50 (ISBN 1-57387-172-9)

The wider availability of information retrieval (IR) technology in its various forms, from online public access catalogs to vendor bibliographic database products and Internet search engines, has introduced a broader audience to IR concepts and the systems that support information access. The number of monographs on IR that have been written in recent years by authors primarily in the computing and information sciences reflects this increased interest in the topic.

Heting Chu's contribution to this growing literature offers a non-technical overview of IR that is geared primarily towards a library and information science audience. The book's twelve chapters cover topics that are fundamental to understanding IR concepts and systems. Subject coverage includes: historical antecedents and developments, search techniques, query development, major IR conceptual models, evaluation of IR systems, user interactions with IR systems, and recent trends in multimedia and multilingual content retrieval. Unlike many IR monographs by authors from the computing sciences, this work takes a user-centered approach by including two chapters devoted to user interactions and user information needs, respectively. What also distinguishes this work from other monographs on IR is the treatment of information representation. Representation serves as an important foundation for effective retrieval. The average end user may be concerned only with obtaining relevant results; but for librarians and other information professionals, these topics are of particular interest. The coverage of information representation encompasses indexing, text summarization, categorization techniques, metadata, and vocabulary control. Two chapters are devoted to these topics, with additional coverage in other chapters as they relate to specific aspects of IR. [End Page 304]

The author has a professional and research background that allows her to address both sides of the IR and representation domain. Chu's writing style is straightforward, with clear explanations of concepts as they arise. Combined with an easy to follow and logical organization, the content is appropriate for readers new to IR and those who are familiar with the field. With rapid technological developments, it is difficult not to make reference to technologies or systems that may become dated. The author avoids such references, for the most part, by focusing on general processes common to different types of IR systems. A useful chapter that reflects some of these developments addresses multilingual and multimedia retrieval and discusses challenges associated with non-textual document representation and retrieval.

Overall, there is not a lot new here that adds to the knowledge base of IR—but then that is not the intent of this work. The author has developed a useful synthesis of key ideas in IR and representation that will introduce a new generation of information professionals to an important area of the field. It also will acquaint current professionals with recent developments and the issues that have influenced the IR landscape over the past decade.

Dietmar Wolfram
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee



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pp. 304-305
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