Bibliometric-enhanced Information Retrieval – BIR 2020 10th Anniversary Edition at Home

Searching for scientific data and literature is a long-lived user need as academic search defines a complex task for IR researchers. IR veterans like Salton were already trying to enhance the retrieval process by including clues inferred from bibliographic citations. The development of citation indexes pioneered by Garfield proved determinant for such a research endeavour at the crossroads of Bibliometrics and IR as two prominent fields of Information Science. The early pioneers were followed by scientists who often specialised in only one of these fields, with the effect that, over time, both communities drifted apart.

A word cloud created from past BIR articles.

In 2014, a renaissance of the historically close relationship between the IR and Bibliometrics communities came into life with the establishment of the 1st International Workshop on Bibliometric-enhanced Information Retrieval (BIR 2014) in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, co-located with ECIR 2014. This event was a huge success so that from now on every ECIR has enjoyed accompanying BIR workshops. Even more – bibliometric-enhanced IR and mining of academic texts also attracted the NLP and Digital Libraries community, leading to the BIRNDL “spin-off”, running in 2016, 2017 and 2019 at JCDL and SIGIR, respectively. BIR and BIRNDL also had follow-up special issues in renowned journals such as Scientometrics and The International Journal on Digital Libraries; this selection of journals also demonstrates the interdisciplinary nature of the research topic. More information about all BIR/BIRNDL events and also the free proceedings can be accessed from the BIR/BIRNDL Workshop Series Web site.


BIR 2020 at ECIR at home

ECIR 2020, supposed to happen in Lisbon, Portugal, but forced to move completely online due to the COVID-19 crisis, saw BIR 2020, the 10th Anniversary edition of the Bibliometric-enhanced Information Retrieval workshop series if we count all BIR and BIRNDL workshops. The BIR 2020 Call for Papers asked for submissions on topics such as user needs and behaviour regarding scientific information, mining scientific literature, and academic search/recommendation systems. The current COVID-19 pandemic shows that these topics are spot-on as we are living in times where high-quality publications need to be rapidly created and made accessible for researchers world-wide to effectively and efficiently fight the crisis and share relevant data sets.

BIR 2020 took place April 17, 2020, using the Zoom online conference platform. As usual, BIR 2020 brought the ‘retrievalists’, ‘citationists’ and other interested parties together to join forces pushing the knowledge boundaries of IR applied to literature search and recommendation.

BIR 2020 attracted many submissions, so the full-day workshop saw 3 different sessions on expert finding and ranking models; citations; learning to rank and evaluation. This was complemented by a keynote by George Tsatsaronis (Vice President Data Science, Research Content Operations at Elsevier) about Metrics and Trends in Assessing the Scientific Impact. The papers can be freely accessed at the BIR 2020 CEUR proceedings.

Happy Birthday, BIR!

Since BIR 2020 was the 10th Anniversary edition, renowned researchers from the Scientometrics, NLP and IR community were asked beforehand to provide their reflections about the workshop series. This resulted in a set of 15 greeting notes, as videos or in writing. A YouTube playlist was created where these researches gave their insights on how they perceive BIR/BIRNDL.

The online experience – what could possibly go wrong?

Due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, BIR 2020, together with ECIR 2020 and the other associated workshops,  faced an exceptional situation as it had to be delivered as an online-only event. This led to some interesting experiences that might be considered for similar future events. On the very positive side, the online delivery with tools such as Zoom and Slack, together with the #bir2020 Twitter hashtag, provided channels for interaction between speakers and participants, who were connected from home from all over the world. The highly increased inclusiveness of this form of online delivery led to the record number of 97 participants at peak time.  The author thinks that this aspect is something that future conferences and workshops should consider as not every interested researcher is able to afford travel, accommodation and conference fees. On the other hand, nothing replaces the traditional face-to-face discussion, in particular in the relaxed atmosphere of a social event. The ECIR organisers did their best to provide this, together with a very successful virtual ECIR main conference, for which they need to be applauded. Turning your home office into a conference location is interesting; coffee is free at home but there are no real other conference participants to share it with. The Slack platform allowed for some discussion at the main conference, but the experience is different and such a solution could, in theory, be provided along with physical delivery of an event.

A typical conference experience in pandemic times.

While BIR 2020, in the end, was received very positively, there was a dark spot on the experience. Have you ever witnessed a conference or workshop suddenly being flooded by a bunch of hooligans? Such an unpleasant incident happened toward the end of BIR 2020, when the workshop’s  Zoom link was accidentally leaked on social media, with the effect that the virtual room was “Zoom-bombed”. While this was a tragic accident due to human error, this was also enabled by the fact that Zoom links have their password included, which makes it easy to distribute in a careless moment. Future advice if using Zoom is to enable the “waiting room” functionality, whenever feasible.

Conclusion and outlook

BIR 2020 had a very nice birthday and the organisers, current (Philipp Mayr, Guillaume Cabanac and Ingo Frommholz) and past (Andrea Scharnhorst, Birger Larsen, Philipp Schaer, Peter Mutschke and Howard D. White) can raise a glass of their favourite drink on 10 successful workshops. The topic of Bibliometric-enhanced IR is alive and kicking and, in the author’s opinion, very relevant to tackle future challenges in academic information seeking. The all-online version of BIR 2020 and ECIR 2020 provided some interesting experience and it is not unlikely that conferences, in general, will change when it comes to their delivery.

The BIR organisers are currently editing a Special Issue on “Bibliometrics and Information Retrieval” in the Scientometrics journal (Springer). All accepted and published papers are listed on the Special Issue page accordingly. The next “spin-off” is the First Workshop on Scholarly Document Processing (SDP) that will be held in November 2020 in conjunction with the 2020 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP) as an all-virtual event.

The BIR community is invited to submit research papers to a new Research Topic “Mining Scientific Papers Volume II: Knowledge Discovery and Data Exploitation” in the journal Frontiers in Research Metrics and Analytics (deadline for submissions is September 1, 2020).

We are looking forward to the next BIR workshop as a continuation of the workshop series, hopefully at a nice physical workshop location.

About Ingo Frommholz
Ingo Frommholz

Ingo is Reader in Data Science at the University of Wolverhampton, UK. His research focuses on different aspects of information retrieval, in particular formal models for user-oriented search and digital libraries, with emphasis on polyrepresentation, annotation-based retrieval, interactive quantum-based IR and probabilistic and logic-based models. Ingo is actively sharing his passion for information retrieval and digital libraries on Twitter where he is known as @iFromm.

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