An Evaluation of Thesaurus-Enchanced Visual Interfaces for Multilingual Digital Libraries

Shiri, A., Ruecker, S., Doll, L., Bouchard, M. & Fiorentino, C. (2011). An Evaluation of Thesaurus-Enhanced Visual Interfaces for Multilingual Digital Libraries. In: S. Gradmann et al (eds.): TPDL 2011, LNCS 6966, pp.236-243.


Semantically rich user interfaces have the potential to assist users in formulating queries, forming context for a particular search, and exploring and gaining a comprehensive view of collections.


A comparative user evaluation of two thesaurus-enhanced visual user interfaces T-Saurus and Searchling. Twenty-five academic users carried out three search tasks on both interfaces (connected to the UNESCO digital portal). Using usability and affordance strength questionnaires, interviews, thinkalouds and observation, the researchers recorded users’ evaluations of the key components of the two interfaces (e.g. multilingual features, thesaurus browsing and search functions).

The Interfaces

The Searchling interface provides a thesaurus space, query space and document space in one screen.  The Thesaurus space includes a browsable side panel of high-level categories, next to a list of thesaurus terms. Each term has a number beside it, which indicates how many documents in the collection contain the term. When a term is queried or clicked, it moves to the top of the list and all related terms from the thesaurus appear below it. The table to the right of the Thesaurus list indicates related terms that are broader, narrower, preferred or non-preferred compared with the selected term; the user can also sort by these categories.

Fig 1: Searchling Interface

The T-Saurus search user interface makes use of visual objects, size, colour, location, zoom in and zoom out features to distinguish between various types of thesaurus terms and their relationships. Figure 2 shows a core of visual elements consisting of a set of “buckets” organized in the center of the screen. It shows the size of the buckets that represents the number of matches for a particular term, while proximity and opacity represent scope and accuracy of the term in relation to pre-established hierarchies for the query: main term, related terms, more specific, more general and synonymous terms.

Fig 2: T-Saurus Interface


  • Overall, both interfaces were found to be comprehensible to users, and the thesaurus functions were useful for broadening and narrowing the scope of research activities.
  • In general, the Searchling interface was found to be easier to use, and users’ were more likely to return to that interface for their future research.
  • Most users prefer that related, broader and narrower terms be shown along with their selected term without any additional effort.
  • Linear thinkers preferred the faceted presentation of Searchling, while visual learners preferred the graphical presentation of T-Saurus.
  • The authors speculate that T-Saurus could help transform the browsing,  searching and query formulation process.
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