Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Centre for Database Access Research (CEDAR): The Huddersfield Connection

Steve Pollitt describes the history and research behind CEDAR, the Centre for Database Access Research, which specialises in work on the design of interfaces for information retrieval systems.

Almost in the very beginning …

The seed which has grown into CeDAR - the Centre for Database Access Research was probably planted way back in 1973 at the early days of online searching. The Marconi Research Laboratories at Gt. Baddow in Essex had developed an Automated Ultrafiche Terminal capable of storing enormous quantities of information on high density microform. This device offered access for a wide variety of potential applications from telephone directories to criminal records, maps to images of grasses brought back by Darwin from Australia, learning programmes to literature abstracts. This was a rich area for research and development and the writing of software to make it possible to search what could amount to gigabytes of information on the desktop - yes this was 23 years ago. Alas this technology never made it from R & D to widespread application … but that’s another story …


Seven years later …

The CeDAR story resumes at the Polytechnic of Huddersfield where a project to investigate the information needs of cancer therapy clinicians began in 1980 in collaboration with the University of Leeds. What has followed is a succession of projects which have investigated and developed interfaces for end-user searching of databases. The evolution of these interfaces follows a logical progression from an expert systems approach to what is termed view-based searching where some of the key interface features have survived from the first prototype - CANSEARCH. What follows is a brief overview of the prototypes and projects highlighting what survived and what became extinct.


CANSEARCH (1981-1986)

An expert systems approach - promising much and after several years delivering promise:


MenUSE - Menu-based User Search Engine (1987-1993ish)

The first MenUSE system was built at the National Library of Medicine in the USA and could be used to search the complete MEDLINE database - switching subject matter revealed major weaknesses in the expert systems approach. (beware advocates of intelligent agents - been there, done that, no T-shirt, good luck with the programming!)


VUSE - View-based User Search Engine (1993ish - )

A feature was introduced to MenUSE for INSPEC and EuroMenUSE (yes we had to call the European Parliament System something like that) which came to shift the thinking radically. The feature was implicit Boolean searching through filtered views:

Proposals to enhance the forms-based Watch-CORDIS interface using VUSE are still under consideration at the European Commission in Luxembourg (I hope!).


HIBROWSE - High-resolution Interface for Database Specific BROWsing and Searching (honest) (1993ish - )

The usability problems of VUSE were serious - a parallel development in CeDAR demonstrating improved access to an ORACLE database - HIBROWSE for Hotels - offered features which might overcome these problems. A British Library Funded project which went live on March 1st 1995 provided the opportunity to examine usability issues in applying HIBROWSE search techniques (View-based searching) to the EMBASE database published by Elsevier Science Publishers BV in Amsterdam :


View-based Searching on Intranet Systems (1996-1999) - A VACANCY for a RESEARCHER


Steve Pollitt is the UK coordinator for
ISKO - The International Society for Knowledge Organisation.

HIBROWSE, VUSE and View-based Searching are Trade Marks of the University of Huddersfield

CeDAR - Centre for Database Access Research
School of Computing and Mathematics
University of Huddersfield
Tel: +44 (0) 1484 472147472248
Fax: +44 (0) 1484 421106

The Web pages for CeDAR can be found at: http://www.hud.ac.uk/schools/cedar