Looking Beyond the List: Enhancing Search with Interactive Visualizations
The size and scope of library databases have changed much since the 1970s, but the primary mode of displaying results remains the sorted list. While lists work well for providing access to the first several results of a search, they do little to provide context. A list does not convey information about those results not immediately displayed, nor does it describe relationships among parts of a complex search.
This lack of context makes navigating large databases more difficult, as a searcher can typically find something about a topic but may not locate the most relevant items from the hundreds returned. Knowing that even experienced users may not choose the most efficient search at first, librarians often teach an iterative approach to building a search in instruction sessions. Meanwhile, library interfaces give a user little information to direct that process beyond the raw number of hits at each step.
In contrast to simple lists, visualization techniques such as Venn diagrams and bar graphs are excellent tools for summarizing data sets by displaying information about one or more aggregate qualities at a glance. Here, I will demonstrate how simple, easy to understand visualizations can be used to display search results from the Library of Congress.