Semantic Clustering in the Wild

  1. 1. Aaron Krowne

    Emory University

  2. 2. Alice Hickcox

    Emory University

  3. 3. Stephan Ingram

    Emory University

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Problem Space and Context
The Southern Changes Digital Archive is a digital
collection of 25 years of Southern Changes, a publication
of the Southern Regional Council.1 The Beck Center of
Woodruff Library has digitized the issues of Southern Changes
and made them available as a fully searchable text archive. 2
The collection consists of 25 volumes, over 100 issues,
containing nearly 1000 articles.
Emory University is participating in the Digital Library
Federation's Aquifer Project and the Southern Changes Digital
Archive is one of the bodies of work that we proposed to
include. As we inspected the elements of the MODS Aquifer
schema,3 it became clear to us that every item in the metadata
collection would end up with identical labeling, since the
collection lacked subject assignments for the individual articles.
Thus, the challenge that we faced, in order to make this material
useful to users of the MODS-Aquifer metadata, was to assign
subject classifications to each of the articles in the collection
with some level of automation and a minimum level of human
intervention (given the ~1000 individual articles). We also
realized that this undertaking would help to make the collection
more browseable by providing a subject-based access point
into the digital library. To achieve these ends, we turned to the
tools and techniques developed on the MetaCombine project
here at Emory.
Semantic Clustering in the DL
Production Environment
Semantic clustering is the notion of using computing
techniques to group formerly unorganized artifacts based
on latent aspects of meaning. For library information, this
translates into grouping texts and metadata records by their inherent “topics.” Semantic clustering techniques have come
far in recent years, and hold great promise for enriching many
information applications. However, there is a wide gulf between
the state-of-the-art research in this area, and its uptake in
real-world applications.
A major reason for this disjunct is that research systems for
semantic clustering (and related techniques such as
classification) are not fit for the production environment: they
are too ad hoc, too brittle, too encumbered by intellectual
property constraints, too specialized, poorly organized, and
they typically require programming to deploy in the local
computing environment and adapt into situational use.
But there is another factor that is more interesting for this study:
that the automated aspect of semantic clustering covers only
part of the production process; as we found on the
MetaCombine 4 project (and which many others confirm), some
human refinement is always needed. However, tools and
facilities which mesh the automatic with the manual to perform
this refinement seem to be unavailable.
In sum, there exist few (if any) turnkey systems that are
accessible to digital librarians which allow the integration of
semantic clustering into the DL environment.
We began taking steps to address these problems on the
MetaCombine project, by adding to core semantic clustering
systems a some HTML-based report, a visual browsing
application and a “scheme editing” system. All of these systems
operated on the "raw" outputs of semantic clustering, and served
to help comprehend, navigate, and (in the case of the latter)
manually refine the output.
The central specific problems we found with semantic clustering
results in MetaCombine 5 were:
• redundant clusters
• confusing and otherwise "rough" cluster descriptors (labels)
• spurious clusters
• questionable classifications
The scheme editor was created to allow the revision of a cluster
hierarchy to ameliorate the above issues, helping to make it a
more true category (or subject) hierarchy, fit for end-use
applications (such as subject tagging and subject-based
We have now begun the process of using these tools to work
semantic clustering techniques into production digital library
services. The focus of the present paper is one of these
real-world test cases: the Southern Changes collection and
digital library. However, key for our investigation is that the
library production environment itself is a major point of interest;
thus this work represents more of an exploration of the
application of the MetaCombine tools to this environment,
rather than another quantitative test of clustering or
classification accuracy for the particular algorithmic kernel.
Our Study
We have approached the Southern Changes clustering
investigation as an informal study. This is both because
the needs of the Southern Changes project are practical and
because this investigation does not have the scale to have the
form of a controlled experiment or series of experiments.
The structure of the study is:
1. interface the collection with the clustering system
2. perform clustering with a variety of parameter settings
3. explore and refine output in MetaCombine tools (HTML
reports, scheme editor, visual viewer).
4. implement refinements to clustering (tweak parameters, fix
5. implement refinements to MetaCombine tools programs
6. go to step 2.
The study thus has an iterative nature and is open-ended, and
as we go through these iterations, we are learning much about
the nature of clustering and the contextualization of the task in
the digital library environment. As indicated above, our
clustering tools are also evolve throughout, moving beyond
research to practice.
The insights gleaned from this process form the core of our
reporting for this forum. The types of items we intend to report
on, along with initial impressions include (but are not limited
• The utility of the scheme editor, HTML reports, and other
Thus far, these tools have proven quite useful for determining
the latent topics discovered by the clustering engine, and give
a basic level of understanding of what kind of documents are
assigned to each. However, it remains difficult to get a more
complete or holistic sense of how well a large number of
documents has been assigned.
• The difficulty of deploying the tools
Thus far, the difficulty is moderate, for a librarian with some
programming experience. Some problems in deployment of the
scheme editor tool were isolated and future distributions will
have fixed them; so the difficulty level is improving.
We have not broached the topic of re-deploying the clustering
kernel itself for this project. However, this may not ultimately
be necessary, as we are pursuing a federated model for this and
other metadata enhancement services. • The utility of clustering itself
Flat (one-level) clustering seems to do quite well with the right
parameters and with the documents for which there is the most
confidence. Fidelity seems to deteriorate rapidly for hierarchical
clustering past the first level (with the first of two hierarchical
clustering methods), though it is still unclear if this is more a
result of the collection or the clustering system. Our second
method of hierarchical clustering needs further development
to be fully evaluated in end-use.
We believe we have established that the multiclassification
functionality of the system is extremely useful; as topical
ambiguity is compensated for by the multiple labels. This makes
intuitive sense, as there typically is no single categorization for
an interdisciplinary humanities article.
It appears significant work needs to be done in thresholding
classification assignments, as well as making the determination
of if and when confidence is high enough to consider a record
• The feasibility of integrating outputs of clustering into
production systems
As described in more detail below, we believe there will be
little difficulty in utilizing the outputs of this system, once we
have determined that output is satisfactory.
Given the proliferation of XML handling tools, at minimum,
our current, simple XML format for representing a clustered
collection organization should be easily translatable into our
existing digital library system. The most challenging part may
in fact prove to be combining the generated subject tags with
the existing TEI metadata structure.
Implementation Plans
The results of the clustering are XML files that contain the
renamed category, associated with the article by means
of the id attribute assigned to the article. We will apply an XSLT
transform to add an attribute that indicates the subject(s)
assigned to each article, using the TEI "ana" attribute. We can
then harvest the records with the subject information, and as a
further step, add a subject browsing capability to the web site,
using the "interpGrp/interp" elements. This will enable
dynamically generated categories for searching and browsing.
Figure 1:
1. Southern Regional Council <http://southerncounci>
2. Southern Changes Digital Archive <http://beck.libra>
3. Aquifer MODS Guidelines <
4. MetaCombine project site <http://www.metacombine
5. MetaCombine Final Report <http://www.metacombin

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2007

Hosted at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, United States

June 2, 2007 - June 8, 2007

106 works by 213 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (2)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None