Full project title
Towards a knowledge structure for high performance subject access and retrieval within managed digital collections.

Project funding Funded by AHRB (Arts and Humanities Research Board) - Innovation Awards Scheme, 2001.

Project lifetime Original plan: April 2002 and ends in March 2003.


 Research questions

A major issue in the location and retrieval of digital objects is the lack of high performance retrieval tool or classification system suitable for an electronic environment. Taxonomical classification structures, when applied in knowledge organization, tend to regard knowledge as an integrated whole, which is divided and subdivided into smaller (i.e. more specific) units, in a single tree-like structure. Thus they are limited in their capacity to handle the kinds of multi-dimensional properties and relationships that are found in collection of digital objects where no specific ordering is dominant, and in distributed environment through which much digital content is made available.

Facet analytical theory (FAT) provides methods and techniques to build classification knowledge structure from individual terms (bottom-up) which are analysed into categories and ordered by the application of the system syntax. The resultant structure is logical and predictable, and therefore highly effective in storage and retrieval.

This research will focus on application of such this method in the field of humanities and will try to answer on the following questions:

  • Is FAT useful for developing the kind of complex knowledge structures we need in order to access digital materials
  • How might classification structure based on FAT provide innovative access to digital materials?
  • How might FAT facilitiate cross-disciplinary access?

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 Aims and Objectives
  • To investigate the feasibility of using FAT to develop a knowledge structure suitable for the digital environment
  • To develop and evaluate a prototype implementation in collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS) and the Humbul Humanities Hub

In order to fulfill the following objectives:

  • to make a major contribution to the development of FAT
  • to test an innovative method for accessing digital content, which is able to take account of the complexity and variety of digital resources in a way that existing classification schemes cannot
  • to test an innovative method for accessing digital content in a cross-disciplinary framework
  • to develop a working prototype of a knowledge structure extensible across the arts and humanities
  • to provide model for such a scheme for other disciplines and the wider community
  • to provide a mapping between this knowledge structure and recognized international standards to ensure interoperability
  • to disseminate the results of the research

If successful the project will have a very significant impact on the broad community of users of the AHDS, Humbul, and, more generally future developments within the Distributed National Electronic Resources (DNER) and other digital library activities. It will make it possible to carry out cross-collection searches in ways that are much more effective than can be achieved by current linear indexing schemes.

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 Research Context

Facet analysis theory (FAT) has never been applied to digital resources. Neither has it been applied in any significant manner across the whole of the arts and humanities. The experiments proposed here will help to establish how effective this technique can be in the implementation of a knowledge structure that could potentially reach a very wide audience.

Given the rate at which the number of electronic resources is increasing and the investment by the AHRB and JISC in their development, the need for such a knowledge structure and browsing scheme cannot be overstated. Of particular relevance to this proposal is the Arts and Humanities Portal being planned by Humbul and AHDS. The portal will act as a single point of access to a range of varied resources across the arts and humanities. Any classification scheme withing Portal has to assist in creating different paths to the same resource so that the user approaching the Portal from one subject area (e.g. English literature) should not need to know the sub-discipline breakdown of another subject area (e.g. archaeology) in order to retrieve relevant information.

In a testbed implementation for this research, the AHDS and HUMBUL will apply the knowledge structure to the Portal's planned metadata repository for all the digital objects in their collections. They will also experiment with its use in cross-disciplinary browsing and retrieval of digital resources which are held elsewhere.

Areas to be investigated include:

  • the terminology of subject areas within the arts and humanities
  • an analysis of terminology into functional categories including the investigation of additional categories
  • the problems of interdisciplinary
  • the additional properties of digital objects, especially non-text, multi-media and images

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 Project Workplan

Code Description Month
M1 Project Management Established, Workplan agreed 3
M2 Design of the classification maintenance and development tool 5
M3 Finalised first classification and vocabulary 7
M4 Populated metadata and working prototype 9
M5 Finalised vocabulary in further subject area 10
M6 Evaluation of faceted classification as applied in A&H portal 12

Work Package list


Work Package Title Lead


Start month End
Phase Deliverables
01 Project planing and management UCL 2 0 12 1-5 D1, D2, D15
02 IR requirements for humanities portal HUM/AHDS 1 3 6 1 D3
03 Faceted classification design, data modelling and database design UCL 3 3 5 2 D4, D5
04 Development of knowledge structure, vocabulary collection and facet population UCL 3 5 7 2 D6, D12
05 Prototype design and implementation HUM/AHDS 1 7 8 3 D7
06 Indexing and metadata population UCL 2 8 10 3 D8, D13
07 Testing and evaluation UCL 3 9 12 3 D9, D10
08 Dissemination UCL 3 1 12 1-5 D11, D14

 Research questions
 Research context

 Project workplan