Impossible to find


Thanks to Fernando’s post on Probably Irrelevant, I discovered the IR Museum, an  interesting resource hosted on the SIGIR web site. The site was created to archive documents related to the IR community that are not found in the ACM Digital Library or other similar archives, and yet, are considered fundamental work to the field. The collection, as far as I can tell, includes the Cranfield reports (Cleverdon, 1962),  Rocchio’s PhD Thesis (Rocchio, 1966), a variety of SMART reports (ISR-11, ISR-12, ISR-13,  and ISR-15), and other things that are impossible to find.

When I say impossible to find, I mean the following:

  1. The SIGIR web site STILL does not have any search interface on its home page
  2. The IR Museum is not linked from the SIGIR home page as of this writing
  3. The table of contents of the IR museum consists of three links and a crazy page-flipping animation that does its best to obscure its content.
  4. The “Show exhibition” button does nothing.

The saving grace is that once you get to the IR Museum page, there is, in fact, a search box, and it does seem to work. Sort of. What it does is retrieve links to an animated, sliding page that shows a quick preview of the desired document, and makes you click on another button (labeled “open exhibition page”) which then loads the above-mentioned crazy painfully-slow animation which allows you to flip pages to an abstract of the desired document and a link to it. Clicking on the link produces the actual table of contents for the document in question.

This is how I got the links I included in the first paragraph. This is not how an effective information retrieval system should work. It seems unlikely that this is somebody’s idea of an April Fool’s IR joke, although competing hypotheses elude me. I am happy I found the site, but (in retrospect) am surprised at the fact that I did.

After the fact, I tried searching for it with Google, Bing, and Yahoo!, and only had partial success with the latter, but only after refining the query to add SIGIR to the search. Note that I wasn’t actually able to get a hit on the SIGIR page, but just a couple of mentions of its existence.

I am sure that there are many people in the SIGIR community (including me) who would be happy to help the SIG make this valuable resource accessible. Would the curators of the IR museum please ask for help?


  1. oh, wow.

  2. Is there any reason why someone couldn’t just completely redo the museum on another site? Meaning, are there legal ramifications for hosting those docs somewhere else?

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gene Golovchinsky, Jon Elsas. Jon Elsas said: IR museum *finally* found. […]

  4. I don’t know the legal status of the documents. In my random sample of two documents, copyright was held either by Harvard or by Cornell. I suppose their permission would have to be obtained.

    Of course SIGIR *is* the proper place for these documents. I just cannot understand why they’ve been so obscured in the name of making them available.

  5. […] Iran,with somewhat more diverse results than Yahoo! On the 3rd page it even produced a link to my earlier post. Of course it showed me another link to the same post on the 4th page as well. So much for […]

  6. My thought was to create your own IR museum that doesn’t suck, thereby capturing the notice of the community. Inevitably SIGIR will take notice in a decade or two (or sooner if the gods allow), and then supplant their current site with your non-sucking version. That is, of course, only if you never hear back from the current IR museum curators, who presumably have gone missing.

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