Information; the idea


What the hell is it? What has been thought about it? How has it been theorized? In which disciplines has it been used as a concept? Do we even need it as a theoretical concept? Might we be better of without it?

It seems that I have acquired another area of deep interest. Perhaps some of you could have predicted it—based on much of what I have been reading lately—before I even admitted it to myself. Once you see this week’s upcoming “Some things read…” post—and it is only Monday—it will be fairly evident.

Sure. I meant to “go in deep” and do a bit of reading in this area as I saw fit…

“…you’ll be the keeper of your Holy Grail…”

Pavlov’s Dog. Episode. Pampered Menial.

Sorry, minor musical interlude.

…but I hadn’t quite intended to head so far down the path. Honestly, I think pretty much everyone in our field ought to be seriously concerned with information as a concept. Reading an article or two (Buckland, probably) is simply not enough; as canonical (and good) as they may be.

I forced my way through Raber’s The Problem of Information and tracked down and read many of his very productive sources. If only his book read as well as some of the sources.

While reading Raber I serendipitously stumbled across (that is, I picked the print journal up off the shelf to leaf through) an article by Birger Hjørland in JASIST 58 (10) 2007. I commented on this article, which is a critique of a concept of information put forth recently by Marcia Bates, in my “Some things read this week, 5 – 11 August 2007” post.

Imagine my utter surprise and absolute delight when cleaning out the spam caught by Akismet a few days ago (1 Sep) to find a comment from Dr. Hjørland. He suggested that I send a letter to the editor of JASIST outlining my critique of his view to which he might offer a rejoinder. Wow!

Note: A proper theory of information needs to account for why a comment full of links about licking … ,well, you get the idea, gets through to moderation but a comment from one of our leading researchers with no links gets caught by the spam filter. [Although, perhaps not a theory of information for LIS.]

Lesson to the less “important” among us to check our spam filters and not just automatically trash everything.

As it is, my critique is only of one very small part of his paper. It is also an idea that I have read in many places, and has direct corollaries in other views within theories of information.

That is, that information is that which answers a question (his use) or it is that which reduces uncertainty. I maintain that information can just as often and easily cause an increase in uncertainty and/or generate more questions than it answers, if it even answers any.

In fact, if information did not cause uncertainty or generate questions, would we not quickly satisfy all of our information needs? Whoa! Sorry, just finally verbalized that. Is this so patently obvious that it is rarely acknowledged in our theories?

Anyway, I may well end up doing my bibliography on the concept of information in LIS. So much for doing something that I already have a lot of work done in. Oh well, I’m well on my way as it is.

5 thoughts on “Information; the idea

  1. Please do write a letter to the editor. I’m very happy that non-US LIS researchers are participating in the blogosphere. Very few of the American luminaries monitor the web and engage in discussion. I still remember being laughed at by a few very famous folks at the 2005 ASIS&T who were proud they had never seen a blog.
    As for everyone in our field being deeply concerned with the philosophy of information — as my mother would say — well isn’t it nice we don’t all like the same things! 🙂

  2. Hi Christina. I agree and I sure hope they aren’t laughing at you this year! 🙂

    Very true about us not all liking the same things! But I’m not even sure I’d say I like this topic; I just feel that it is really important.

    I was talking with a couple newer students today about a specific book [not discussed here lately, but important and good] and they were complaining about it not being “a page turner” and some smart butt comment about the cover. Cause, yeah, now we’re judging our books by their covers!

    And while this book may not be a page turner for all it is for me, neither is it poorly written or edited. I just don’t get that sort of attitude and find it similar to those who were proud they had never seen a blog. They had never read one of the most important introductory texts on the organization of information because the pages didn’t flow as easily as the latest Potter megahit. Bah!

    Oh well, KTDs. 😉

    I am working on the letter, though. I only hope I can fully fit it in between all the other things I’m supposed to be doing, although I think this is a higher priority for me personally.

    I forgot to mention that Dr. Hjørland is coming to visit us at UIUC before ASIS&T, too. I was looking forward to it before and now I really am. 🙂

  3. Please insist that people who consider themselves experts in Library and Information Science (or any other domain) should be willing to debate there views openly. Christinas experience at ASIS&T 2005 is simply not acceptable. As students and researchers in a field we share a common goal in advancing our field. This can ONLY be done by open discussion. The lack of such is a symptom of an intellectual crisis. It is more important that we find fruitful solutions than we escape to loose face because we have to change our standpoint.

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