Some things read this week, 26 August – 1 September 2007

Sunday, 26 Aug

Harris, Roy, and Christopher Hutton. Definition in theory and practice: Language, lexicography and the law. London: Continuum, 2007.

Read ch. 4 “Ostensive Definition and Linguistic Theory.”

Litwin, R. Library Juice Concentrate. Duluth, Minn: Library Juice Press, 2006.

Finished Section Four: Librarians: Culture and Identity and began Section Five: Cuba:

Litwin, R. “A Critique of Anarchist Librarianship.”

Litwin, R. and Jessamyn West. “Interview with Jessamyn West.”

Neugebauer, Rhonda L. “Rhonda L. Neugebauer Reports on her March, 2000 Trip to Cuba.”

Sparanese, Ann. “Ann Sparanese’s Paper on Cuba for the IRC Latin American and Caribbean Subcommittee.”

Monday, 27 Aug

Wersig, Gernot and Ulrich Neveling. “The phenomena of interest to Information Science.” The Information Scientist 9 (4), December 1975: 127-140.

Cited by Raber, ch. 10 en9.

“Information” must reduce uncertainty. Arrrgh!

This is actually an article worth reading, despite its flaws. It begins by taking a look at various disciplines involved in “information science,” the different routes taken in the rise of information science(s), and some reasons for the difficulties in discussing this concept. It then outlines four broad views (phenomenon-, means-, technological-, and purpose-oriented) under which the concept of information has been expressed in various literatures.

Six major approaches to “‘Information’ as the possible object of information science” as based on “the general structure of relations between humans and the world” are elucidated and critiqued (130-132).

  • Structure approach (matter-oriented)
  • Knowledge approach
  • Message approach
  • Meaning approach (characteristic of message-oriented)
  • Effect approach (recipient-oriented)
  • Process approach

It is under the Effect approach that “‘Information’ is reduction of uncertainty” arises (133).

This diversity of views on ‘information’ is frightening, and in fact is probably incomplete. It would be a relief if we could follow Fairthorne’s proposal: ‘Clearly, “information” and its derivatives are words to avoid’, but obviously this is not possible. … If the term ‘information’, or one of derivatives like ‘informatics’ is unavoidable, we should make it clear in every instance what is meant (132, emphasis mine).

Next is a justification for a societal responsibility for information scientists followed by broad, medium and narrow solutions for defining the boundaries of information science “vis-á-vis other object-oriented disciplines” (135).

The authors opt for the narrow solution as it allows solutions to the concrete, pragmatic problems that need solving. This is not “a narrow understanding of ‘information’ but of the area in which ‘information’ is considered” (137).

A short proposal follows which shows the intersection of the traditional disciplines with the now grouped information sciences, each “catering for different clientèles according to different information needs” (138).

I like this idea at first glance. I need to think it through more critically, and it may need some rearranging or additions or deletions, and 30 years on perhaps some new terms for the various disciplines, but I am beginning to lean towards a definite narrowing of the scope of ‘information science’ as to consider it only one of the many ‘informations sciences.’

Thus, I like this article a lot. I think that in a short space it offers a lot to seriously consider in trying to explicate the concepts of ‘information’ and ‘information science’ and the place of the former in the latter.

My biggest issue with these authors is that they fall back on one of the variants of the Effect approach mentioned above:

The basic term ‘information’ can be understood only if it is defined in relation to these information needs

Either as reduction of uncertainty caused by communicated data.
Or as data used for reducing uncertainty (138).

Even in a highly empirical domain I simply cannot accept this definition of ‘information.’ Perhaps if someone provides a term for the information which actually increases uncertainty, and can justify having two theoretical entities, I might accept this. But I have yet to see one by anyone who leans towards the uncertainty reduction and/or question answering views of ‘information.’

I Kuhn’s view (highly simplified), it is anomalous data which causes uncertainty, doubt, inconsistency, etc. with a current standard theory in science. This resultant anomalous state of knowledge leads towards attempts to resolve the uncertainty. When enough observations do not fit within the current theory that theory is eventually discarded by a few scientists in favor of one which better explains previous observations and the anomalous observations under the current theory. Eventually, perhaps, a paradigm change happens as the new theoretical explanations become the standard.

Is not the meaning and interpretation given the anomalous data (or perhaps just the recognition of its having significance) also information? [I know this question needs restructuring for greater rhetorical force. Nonetheless, it is my belief (for now) that information is often a cause of uncertainty and question generation. Defining it so narrowly, without offering a counterpart concept, as that which must reduce uncertainty or that which only answers questions is highly limiting and perhaps even question begging.]

See also my comments on this and related ideas on my “Some things read this week” post of 5-11 August 2007. I also seem to have conflicting ideas on whether narrowing the scope of information science is appropriate if one looks at the same previous post. I accept this. A large part of this conflict is based on the definitions of ‘information’ and ‘use’—among others—which we accept first. Definitions of our major theoretical entities, though, should delimit the scope of the discipline and not the other way round. See the following article for related thoughts on delimiting the scope of information science and also for a critique of this article.

Roberts, Norman. “Social Considerations Towards a Definition of Information Science.” Journal of Documentation 32 (4), December 1976: 249-257.

Cited by Raber, ch. 10, en8 & en10.

Yay!! [This is the note I wrote on the article after I finished it.]

This is a short, but important, article on the prospect of refocusing information science as a social science. It outlines some reasons why, despite most theorists agreeing that information concepts and phenomena have a social significance, information science is oriented “towards the scientific and scientism rather than the social scientific” (249).

Specific theorists considered include Mikhailov, Wersig and Neveling (see previous article above), Yovits, and Whittemore and Yovits, and Brookes. Wersig and Neveling get the most space.

After demonstrating that the highly constricted domain alloted by Wersig and Neveling for information science is untenable, Roberts turns to the idea of information as uncertainty reducer. His critique takes several tacks including problems of definition, the substitution of one substitute measure for another substitute measure, and “the adoption of a naive human information model” (252).

Curiously, for committed social scientists, no recognition is accorded the frequent situations in which additional increments of information increase, rather than dispel, uncertainty.

With this, and other, warnings available to us it would seem unhelpful, to say the least, for information science to manufacture its very own version of economic man in the shape of uncertainty man and to adopt him as the basis for the exploration of information problems[5] (252).

[en5] It would be possible to deny this argument by maintaining that information which causes uncertainty cannot be so regarded but this would rob the model of all social credibility (257). [It would also rob any model of any psychological credibility!]

There is much more of value in this article, including a reminder of how a social science such as information science is still a science.

I’ll leave you with this closing thought:

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the recognition that the methodologies and expectations of information science are those of the social sciences. In particular the requirements of social explanations imply that the individual, the ultimate justification of all information work, services and theorising, cannot be excluded from the considerations of information scientists (257).

Highly recommended for pretty much everyone in our field.

Monday – Tuesday, 27 – 28 Aug

Harris and Hutton. See above.

Began Part II. Definition and the Dictionary. Read ch.5 “The Lexicographer’s Task.”

Tuesday, 28 Aug

Frohmann, Bernd. “Communication technologies and the politics of postmodern information science.” Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science 19 (2), July 1994: 1-22.

Cited by Raber ch. 10 en 19a and 20.

Quite oddly, for an article that uses the term postmodern so frequently, I really enjoyed this article. I also found myself agreeing with most of it, and it is an important argument.

The kind of politics embedded in these technologies [interactive consumer information technologies] and their supporting infrastructures is evident from their role in the construction of human subjectivity, or what will be termed here a technological practice of identity politics. The argument that follows is that the debate about the postmodern character of the subjects who participate in the social relations configured by the new communication and information technologies presents the most urgent issues for the possibilities of a democratic politics of information (7).

I really found the following quote from Mowshowitz quite accurate for many reasons, experiential and theoretical, but I immediately thought of Facebook groups and wrote just that in the margins of the paper:

Consumers in the network marketplace will be members of many different affinity groups, which will persist for varying periods of time. Moreover, the consumer may very well switch from one group to another. To the extent that personal identity is bound up with ever changing affinity groups, individuality becomes transformed into virtual individuality. At any given moment, a person’s identity can be inferred from the intersection of affinity groups to which he belongs at the same time. (Mowshowitz 1993) (10).

There is much more about social fragmentation, pluralism, identity politics, the role of information and consumer technologies in the construction and manipulation of identity. These issues and their implications are then analyzed “for theory construction in IS that is not politically blind” (13).

Highly recommended, especially to those interested in the political implications of IS theory and practice, identity politics, progressive librarianship, and related issues.

Wednesday – Thursday, 29 – 30 Aug

Harris and Hutton. See above.

Read ch. 6 “Definitions and History.”

Monday – Thursday, 27 – 30 Aug

Litwin, R. See above.

Finished Section Five: Cuba

  • Oberg, Larry. “The Status of Gays in Cuba: Myth and Reality.”

Read Section Six: Various and Sundry Readings (all by Litwin except where noted)

  • Reid, Carol. “Libary Limericks”
  • “Some Meditations on Those Amusing Searches.”
  • Collected by Litwin. “Selected Quotes of the Week.”
  • “Suggested Paper Topics.”
  • “Some Books for Progressive Librarians.”

One of my favorite limericks by Carol Reid:

There once was a bored cataloger
Who doggedly worked as a blogger;
He wanted to write
And stay up half the night,
Not grind in machines like a cog (grrr…)

I gave a Selected Quotes for the Week last week in my commentary and I’d like to provide another. All I’m saying, folks, is perhaps consider the idea when you are “reaching” for your next piece of information to consume:

“It would be a serious intellectual mistake to confuse information that functions as entertainment with actual, or knowledge-based, information. It would be a mistake as well to simply ignore the cognitive implications of information processing as entertainment. Real information, such as who controls wealth and property in the United States, why prison building outdistances school construction, or comparative rates of upward and downward mobility, is as difficult to locate as it ever was and must be culled from the kinds of books and journals not featured and sometimes not even carried by the megabookstore at the strip mall or reported on by television features.” – Joseph Urgo, In the Age of Distraction, University of Mississippi Press, 2000, as cited in Litwin, Library Juice Concentrate, p. 204.

Library Juice Concentrate is highly recommended. Unless of course, you prefer not to think.

As Liz said of Litwin in a comment on last week’s post, “he contributes a necessary voice to the librarianship conversation.” Amen to that!

Friday, 31 Aug

Harris and Hutton. See above.

Read ch. 7 “Types and Problems of Definition.”

Saturday, 1 Sep

Zelle, John M. Python Programming: An Introduction to Computer Science. Wilsonville, Or: Franklin, Beedle, 2004.

Read ch. 3 and began ch. 4.

Karen Sparck Jones. “What’s new about the Semantic Web? Some questions.” [pdf here] Although I read the copy published in the ACM’s SIGIR Forum 38 (2), December 2004: 18-23.

Recommended by David Bade last night.

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