Report on the SIGIR 2021 Workshop “IR for Children 2000-2020: Where Are We Now?”


(Monica Landoni, Theo Huibers, Emiliana Murgia, and Sole Pera)

This year, researchers and practitioners gathered during a workshop co-located with the 44th edition of the renowned ACM SIGIR conference to discuss the current status of information retrieval (IR) research targeting children.

The idea of hosting a workshop at ACM SIGIR first emerged from discussions among us organizers. It became apparent that even after more than 20 years since researchers and practitioners have heard from Yahooligans (a commercial search engine targeting children) and PuppyIR (a research project focused specifically on IR technology for children), research in this important area has not seen the steady growth that other areas of IR targeting mainstream users have experienced. With that in mind, the call for contributions for the IR for Children 2000-2020: Where Are We Now? Workshop specifically asked for vision papers reflecting on what could be the cause for the lack of consistent research outcomes in this area. It also enquired on topics that should be considered in the future, if as a community we are to continue to advance knowledge in this area.

We started the day with a keynote address by Professor Dania Bilal, who shared not only her body of research in this area, but also made us reflect, as a group, on what are some of the major challenges preventing continuous advancement in this area. Most notably, Professor Bilal spotlighted that literature focused on children IR often refers to prior findings related to IR for mainstream individuals (mostly adults). Unfortunately, the opposite is not true. This would evidence that it is time for the IR community at large to recognize and value the implications of research done when children are the main stakeholders; learn and leverage outcomes from work related to this particular area as another layer towards advancing knowledge in mainstream IR.

The day continued with short presentations followed by Q&A from students, faculty, and industry participants from around the globe:

  • Nicholas Vanderschantz and Annika Hinze discussed children’s search behavior in an educational context and proposed several next steps that need attention so that IR tools can better serve children in the classroom.
  • Thijs Westerveld, Gerben De Vries, Hanna Jochmann-Mannak, Carsten Schnober, Christine Fraser, and Theo Huibers brought up an important concept: trusted digital content that children can use for learning.
  • Emma Nicol discussed the challenges that naturally emerge to conduct experiments that enable a better understanding of what children want and need from IR tools that can support their learning.
  • Sveva Valguarnera brought to our attention stakeholders who tend to be overlooked: parents and teachers who can lack the know-how to encourage children’s effective use of IR technology.
  • Thomas Beelen, Ella Velner, Roeland Ordelman, Khiet Truong, Vanessa Evers, and Theo Huibers discussed the early stages of a project exploring the use of robots and conversational search (very much in vogue nowadays) and the importance of fostering in children critical thinking skills as they engage with these robots for information retrieval purposes.
  • Ashlee Milton, Garrett Allen, and Sole Pera shined a light on the fact that literature on IR and children is limited, and even more so if we consider accessibility and inclusion needs.

In the end, engaging discussions in small groups and then collectively among attendees brought to light the need for inviting researchers from broad areas to the table, the value of learning from researchers exploring other non-mainstream target audiences, as well as the importance of focusing on evaluation and therefore associated resources that could be shared among researchers to ease assessment. Most of all, we agree that to move forward we should get a better understanding of the needs and requirements of children (ages 1 to 18) across the world, where access to IR tools, cultural background, and search literacy instruction might vary. We would envisage a revised and extended version of the PuppyIR project to gather the efforts of and foster active collaboration between researchers around the globe, which would put children IR in the IR research agenda.

Dr. Bilal said it best during her keynote address: “the body of research dedicated to IR and children (and not just young children) is smaller than that targeting adult populations. There is still a lot to do. More research to reach more understanding.” And a greater understanding would benefit everyone involved in search technology! We wholeheartedly agree, and as organizers hope that now that we have established connections among researchers interested in advancing the research agenda for this area, in the coming years we can continue the conversation and invite more researchers to join future discussions. In the meantime, you can find workshop resources and contact information at:

About Martin White
Martin White

Martin is an information scientist and the author of Making Search Work and Enterprise Search. He has been involved with optimising search applications since the mid-1970s and has worked on search projects in both Europe and North America. Since 2002 he has been a Visiting Professor at the Information School, University of Sheffield and is currently working on developing new approaches to search evaluation.

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