The Role of Research in the Development of a Profession or a Discipline – some comments

Biggs, M. (1991). The Role of Research in the Development of a Profession or a Discipline. In C. McClure & P. Hernon (Eds.), Library and information science research : perspectives and strategies for improvement, Information management, policy, and services (pp. 72-84). Norwood  N.J.: Ablex Pub. Corp.

Read 19 October 2010

Argues that “Librarianship is neither a discipline nor a profession as traditionally defined, and it has no real prospects of becoming one” (72). This, though, is only to set the stage for what kind of research we should be doing and how it should be done.

This was an interesting article that I would like to see more widely discussed. Much in it could be debated. But most interesting would be the implications for the field if, in general, we ended up agreeing with the author’s major conclusions.

Sections:

  • NEITHER A DISCIPLINE …
  • … NOR A PROFESSION
  • THE ROLE OF RESEARCH IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF A DISCIPLINE
  • THE ROLE OF RESEARCH IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF A PROFESSION
  • THE ROLE OF RESEARCH IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF LIBRARIANSHIP
  • “TECHNICAL RATIONALITY” VERSUS “REFLECTION-IN-ACTION”
  • NEW RESEARCH STYLES FOR LIBRARIANSHIP

I imagine that her comments under the section THE ROLE OF RESEARCH IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF LIBRARIANSHIP could really start some flame wars if not read with an open mind and a deferred judgment, at least, until she gets to these lines: “This is not to say that they represent work that is trivial or easy or takes no training. But neither need they be the exclusive province of a particular “profession”" (78).

Another area that might start some “healthy” discussion is that she seemingly defends “how we do it good” articles (79).

The author’s claim is that, after some argument to get here, “Librarianship is neither a discipline nor a profession, but rather an occupation grounded in techniques and personal “arts” (79). This claim is what grounds the kind of research she argues for.

Citing an article of hers then in press, she states that she has “argued that we should discard the notion of library “science” as itself a cohesive research field and instead draw to us experts from appropriate disciplines and work with them to explore the problems of technology, communication, economics, politics, sociology, and cognition that affect libraries and information transfer generally” (80). The author then lists three possible ways to accomplish that (80-81). These also would stir some healthy debate; especially amongst those in or valuing the doctoral degree in LIS.

The bottom line is a call for researchers to partner with practitioners (81-82). She also calls for a greatly expanded grant-based support of this type of research (82).

The author then suggests three possible ways in which the divide between research and practice in the field might be overcome (82):

  • Require and strengthen empirical research methods in the Master’s education.
  • Create “more formal means of mingling practitioners and scholars, as equals, expressly to discuss research” (82).
  • “Library and library school directors must provide time for their people to explore common interests together” (82). This, of course, would require a change in academic reward structures.

I’m betting a few of my friends would find the bit about “a faculty shortage in this field” perversely funny. Perhaps there was back when this was written. Then again, all of us have been hearing this siren call of impending jobs for too long of a time. Nonetheless, this was just an aside and is highly temporally contextual to a time now past. Still, I wanted to mention it as it is the kind of thing some people will write off an entire article for. Don’t do that in this case is all I’m saying.

There is much of value in this article; much that can be questioned, discussed or debated; and perhaps a little to make one roll one’s eyes. I’m keeping my cards close to my chest as to which is which for me. The most that I’m saying is that in the larger scheme of her paper I agree.

The Profession’s Models of Information – some comments

Green, R. (1991). The Profession’s Models of Information: A Cognitive Linguistic Analysis. Journal of Documentation, 47(2), 130-148.

I read this at the coffee shop one morning a couple of weeks ago and, as usual, was quite impressed. She shows that a model of communication is mandatory for information science but that one of information seeking is optional. She also critiques the overuse of ‘information’ and makes the “radical suggestion” that we need a whole new language for library and information science (143). Yes, yes, and yes! [Was cited by Dick 1995; see below for citation. Or this blog post: 2 articles by Archie Dick]

Based on a linguistic analysis of phrases including the word ‘information,’ randomly sampled across a 20-year period from Library & Information Science Abstracts (LISA: 1969-Sep 1989), “establishes three predominant cognitive models of information and the information transfer process” (130, abstract).

Outline of article:

  • Introduction
  • Related Cognitive Models
  • Method
  • Results
  • Analysis
    • Focus of models
    • Compatibility of models
    • Direct communication model
    • Indirect communication model
    • Information-seeking model
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • Appendix A
    • A. Direct communication (DC) model
    • B. Indirect communication (IC) model
    • C. Information-seeking (IS) model
  • Appendix B. Syntagms evoking general frames
  • References

Introduction

In trying to determine the cognitive models within the field the author made two basic assumptions: “(1) the literature of a field incorporates the cognitive models common to the discipline; and (2) linguistic analysis can be used to ferret out what those models are” (131).

Related Cognitive Models

Green discovered three models, two of which take the perspective of the information system and one which takes the perspective of the information user. The first two fall under the critique of

“the traditional paradigm of information transfer criticised by Dervin. In what she refers to as a positivistic or information-theoretic framework, information is perceived as a self-existent and absolute entity, independent of human minds. Information is stored within a variety of types of information systems, which users may approach in order to extract information relevant to their needs” (132).

Method

Pointing out that the phenomena of the information transfer process “is the key event around which library and information science is built,” Green states that

“If the positivistic model of information transfer observed by Dervin is truly representative of the thinking of the profession and if that mode of thinking is as dysfunctional as Dervin suggests (which, no doubt it is), library and information science educators and researchers would have some serious overhauling and restructuring of their cognitive models to accomplish” (132-33/133).

I adore her all over again for that “which, no doubt it is” aside.

There are a couple limitations of the method used that are listed (134). One of them, which is only a possible limitation or less of one than is suspected, would be partially answered if this study were repeated for the period 1990-2010. I would love to see that comparison.

Analysis

As one can guess from the outline of the article above, the three models found are: Direct communication (DC) model, Indirect communication (IC) model, and the Information-seeking (IS) model (135). I will leave it to the interested reader to delve further into this paper on their own if they are interested in these models and the specific support found for them via Dr. Green’s analysis.

Discussion

“As noted previously, communication models and information-seeking models are not inherently incompatible. Given that information transfer is the basic phenomenon around which library and information science revolves, the discipline must have a model of communication from information source to information user. Since the information user is often the initiator of the information transfer, we may have (and in general we would like to have) information-seeking models, too. Thus, a model of communication is mandatory; a model of information-seeking, although desirable, is theoretically optional. The upshot of this recognition is that the discipline’s models of communication are more crucial than its model(s) of information-seeking. … Sadly, our models of communication provide little insight as to how information transfer is actually effected” (141, empahsis mine).

While I will leave the concept of “information transfer” stand for now, this idea of a “transfer” is also to be rejected. Nonetheless, whatever fills the role of this so-called “information transfer” will still be “the key event around which library and information science is built” (132-33). Thus, a proper theory of communication is the basis for all that we do in library and information science, whether theory or practice.

Did the information-seeking model that was discovered accomplish its aims? No, it did not. Although ostensibly focused on the user, the IS model still emphasized the information system far too much, along with paying more attention to quantity vs. quality of the information retrieved (recall vs. precision) (141-42).

The issue is that

“the cognitive models of the user are not considered. Moreover, the cognitive models embodied in the information retrieved are also ignored; the relevance of information to a user’s need is defined solely in terms of shared ‘aboutness’, without respect to compatibility of underlying cognitive frameworks. Consequently, matching information retrieved to information needed is perceived mechanistically” (142).

This provides a an exceptional argument for domain analysis and a focus on epistemological relevance and viewpoint. Just because some source is ‘about’ a topic does not mean it will meet the needs of a user; any user much less a specific user.

The next paragraph warmed my heart to no end:

“Unfortunately, such a view of information retrieval, which is in the same vein as the positivistic or information-theoretic framework as criticized by Dervin, is, one may argue, built into our understanding of the word ‘information’. … This leaves us with the question why we have adopted such heavy use of the word ‘information’ throughout our discipline when the cognitive models associated with it are in at least some respects incompatible with what we are trying to accomplish” (142).

Conclusions

“Shortcomings discovered in the analysis … highlight the areas where our focus of research should be: the cognitive structures of texts; and how readers perceive them, re-mould them, and integrate them with the cognitive models they possessed at the outset of the interaction” (142, emphasis mine).

The question of integration is actually the foundation of all of these questions, as it is of the question of communication.

“A second recommendation stems from the observation that the word ‘information’ predisposes us to think of the retrieval process in a mechanistic sense, which goes counter to our modern understanding of how the process should be viewed. (Ironically, the word ‘retrieval’ also carries this bias.) … The recommendation offered here is a radical one: we need to change the basic inventory of words we use to communicate about our field. We should be more concerned with learning and knowledge than with retrieval and information” (142-43).

Change our language? Yes, yes, yes!

This article provides me the following:

  • A theory of communication is mandatory for LIS
  • A theory of comm is prior to a theory of information-seeking
  • An argument for domain analysis and epistemological considerations
  • A critique of ‘information’ as the basis for my discipline
  • A call to radically change our language within the field

Dick, A. (1995). Restoring Knowledge as a Theoretical Focus of Library and Information Science. South African Journal of Library & Information Science, 63(3), 99.

Casual-leisure Searching – some comments

Wilson, M. L., & Elsweiler, D. (2010). Casual-leisure Searching: the Exploratory Search scenarios that break our current models. In Proceedings of the Fourth Workshop on Human-Computer Interaction and Information Retrieval, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, 22 August 2010. Presented at the HCIR 2010, New Brunswick, N.J. Retrieved from http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/people/ryenw/hcir2010/docs/HCIR2010Proceedings.pdf

When clearing out my aggregator a couple weeks back I came across this article in ResourceShelf (29 August 2010). It is a short, 4-page article which I printed and read on casual-leisure searching.

It appears to be a preprint from an ACM journal but the real info is lacking. I did some Google Scholar and Google searching and determined it to have been a presentation from HCIR 2010 last month. Daniel Tunkelang’s blog was most helpful, even including having the presentation embedded and linking to the mentioned Technology Review article, “Searching for Fun.”

Fourth Workshop on Human-Computer Interaction and Information Retrieval 22 August 2010

Update: The entire proceedings are available as a (big) pdf from the HCIR 2010 site: Proceedings [pdf: 18.2 MB]  Hmmm, Zotero linked to the entire proceedings; when/how did that happen? The individual article pdf is linked in the 1st paragraph (the one after the citation).

I also found a copy of the preprint at the first author’s uni site.

Casual-Leisure Searching

It turns out that, in fact, it is not only librarians who like to search. Some folks do it just to do it. The authors work in the realm of “exploratory search” and based on two different studies they have done have noticed that information retrieval (IR,) information seeking (IS), exploratory search (ES), and Sensemaking models are all incomplete.

“ES is defined as trying to resolve an information need when the searcher has limited knowledge of their goal, domain, or search system [13], normally involving some kind of learning or investigating behaviour [9]” (28).

They provide a very quick overview of these models and how they assume an information need, and that searching occurs to find information. They then discuss personal tasks versus the work-based focus of most of the research in these areas. Stebbins work on non-work and leisure activities in brought in, situating these activities as hedonistic. The area of the least research on information behavior, especially information seeking, is in this arena of casual-leisure. Some of this is now occurring and they do point to the work of Jenna Hartel and others.

All of these previous models are information-focused but in their work they are beginning to see searching for its own sake.

They did a study on TV-based casual information behaviors and one on harvesting real search tasks from Twitter. This is preliminary work but it is exciting. In the TV-based study they were able to look at both behavior and motivation. One might, if a hard-headed enough nit-picker, describe the behavior as still “wanting to find” but it is the motivation that shows the behavior is tending towards search without finding. These folks still, to me, wanted to find something. But their criteria was so loose that, perhaps, many different things could satisfy what they were looking for.

To me, it is the 2nd study, of Twitter, that shows the most promise in expanding our views, and theories, of search. One could get in a huff and say this is only browsing, except that under the previous models browsing is still assumed to be goal-directed and that it is browsing for something.

Have you ever found yourself endlessly browsing etsy.com, or ted.com, or just sort of leisurely following hyperlink after hyperlink to suddenly notice that 2 hours have elapsed? That sort of browsing or searching has no real goal except to pass the time and, as they note, this can be either a good thing or a not so good thing. But often we do just do this for the experience of it. And I must say that this is one of the few current uses of “experience” that I can get behind. People do, in fact, sometimes search for the experience of it. There is no goal except to pass the time, hopefully in a reasonably enjoyable and non-frustrating manner. But other than that, what is found is of no consequence.

This is another area of daily, mundane, life that as usual until recently has been neglected in science—social or otherwise. Info seeking research began by studying scientists and then corporate work life. Eventually studies of nurses, children, janitors, etc. came along but they were still generally work task related. Only recently has the personal, casual, leisure angle begun to be explored. Now that it is the lack of coverage of our models is beginning to show. Even the more recent exploratory search aspect of information seeking is limited in the same way.

Those who claim that “it is only librarians who like to search, everyone likes to find” are, and always were, wrong.

Citations, whither art thou? – a rant

Let me state up front that I do not mean to pick on any particular authors here. Also, that I have an immense amount of respect for Dr. Brenda Dervin; for her output, for her research itself, and for her willingness to take on an established discipline and challenge it to be something better. But these are the articles I am reading and I need to know what they are citing in their articles. And I do not due to a mixture of shoddiness, journal (and editorial) practices, and a lack of support from citation formats.

Dervin, Brenda. 1976. Strategies for Dealing with Human Information Needs: Information of Communication? (Part One of Information: An Answer for Every Question? A Solution for Every Problem?). Journal of Broadcasting 20, no. 3 (Summer): 324-333.

[Cited by Dervin 1977]

Lankshear, C., M. Peters, and M. Knobel. 2000. Information, Knowledge and Learning: Some Issues Facing Epistemology and Education in a Digital Age. Journal of the Philosophy of Education 34, no. 1 (2): 17-39. doi:10.1111/1467-9752.00153. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.proxy2.library.uiuc.edu/doi/10.1111/1467-9752.00153/abstract.

[Cited by Kapitzke]

Dervin 1976

Based on a citation to it in Dervin 1977, which I did not write about here, I requested a copy of Dervin 1976.

The author is the same for both articles; I would assume then that the work would be correctly cited. When I got the article in question—a print copy via ILL—I found out that the article in question was guest edited and consists of 3 articles by 3 authors, each with their own title, but all under a collective title in one issue of the journal (only part of the content of that issue). The guest editor (Dervin) also wrote the 1st article. Later (1977) in another article she only cited her part of the collective article. Well, all of the citations for the 3 parts are collected at the end of the composite whole. Actually, in truth, that is an assumption since I haven’t seen them. Since I had to request it via ILL I now have part one (and the overview page, gratefully) but no citations as used in the article.

Aside: Back when I did e-reserves I got this all the time from professors putting things on reserves but it only bit us in the butt on the rare occasion when we had to ILL something (very rare; like if ours was missing) and I couldn’t 1st verify where the notes/citations were. Since we copied 99.9% of everything ourselves before scanning them we could look out for students who actually cared by making sure we included the notes/citations no matter where they appeared in the overall document.

Citations to a work must include page numbers to the references used by the author(s), especially if those references are located elsewhere in the document. Otherwise, imho, you are engaging in disingenuous and poor scholarship.

So it turns out the Dervin article is really [unsure of the final page #]:

Dervin, Brenda, ed. 1976. Information: An Answer for Every Question? A Solution for Every Problem? Journal of Broadcasting 20, no. 3 (Summer): 324-353?.

Or is it just this as is claimed on “Dr. Dervin’s Complete Bibliography“?: Dervin, B. (Guest Ed.). (1976-09). Information: An answer for every question? A solution for every problem? (Special section). Journal of Broadcasting, 20 (3), 323-324.   But that is only to the overall composite title and not to the articles comprising the article.

The problem is is that the references (30 in Dervin’s paper) are all at the end of the 3rd article, or so I assume. So while my proposed possibility for a citation, which is only one of several, would get a reader all three parts of the entire article it would also be more accurate in that it would get the reader the citations, too.

The set of three articles comprising this special section of this issue was purporting to look to the future of the discipline of communication and the impact of technology and fetish with information. I find it beyond ironic that these citations lack the basic information (the references) that one needs to verify the sources and ideas used in that time of serious upheaval in the discipline.

Check out the TOC for that issue at informaworld:

Can you tell me where the references are for each part of the article as a whole? By the way, Dervin’s part one really starts on p. 324 and not 323 as noted. P. 323-4 are for the short introduction to the 3 parts of the special section.

Lankshear, et. al.

Several evenings ago I printed the Lankshear, et. al. article at Briar Cliff when I dropped Sara off for her evening reference shift. The next AM I was trying to decide what to bring with me to “the office” (Pierce St. Coffee Works) where I go after dropping her off at work. Choosing the Lankshear, et. al. article to read, I took a quick glance at it and noticed that although it has inline citations in the article those citations were not to be found in my printed copy. I opened the pdf up but they were not there and the text seemed to end appropriately. Logged back in to the UIUC ORR and found the Journal of Philosophy of Education again and navigated to the correct issue. I opened the pdf in the browser and scrolled to the end. No citations. I backed out and scanned the list of articles and finally noticed one titled, “Bibliography,” which was credited to two “authors” not on this paper. I looked at another article in this issue and found inline citations and none in the paper proper. So I grabbed the “Bibliography” pdf and printed out the 6 pages. I’ll leave the things I wasn’t exactly mumbling under my breath to your imagination.

With nasty thoughts toward the editors of a journal that would do this I backed back out to the list of volumes/issues and saw no acknowledgment or indication that this was a special issue. So I checked a couple of issues from a couple volumes either side of this one and found that the articles in those issues *do* include their own references as part of the articles proper.

The article is on pp. 17-39 but the references, for all of the articles, are on pp. 203-208. The issue consists of: 16-page introduction, 12 articles, glossary, preface, and notes on contributors. Thus, by having the citations separate from the articles I now have at least 13x the citations I would have had otherwise.

I do not know who dreams this kind of idiocy up! Nor who if they are going to pursue it doesn’t at the very least mention it at the beginning or end of the article proper that the citations are to be found external to the article itself.

I have absolutely no kind words for this type of behavior. I am interested in what kind of reasoning drives one to do it; not that I expect I could fathom any said explanation once given.

At least in the Dervin case I can kind of understand. The overarching article has its own title and has an editorial byline. It is complete in one issue. So perhaps it makes some sense. But then I do not understand the citing of only a portion of the article. I can understand that she doesn’t want to take credit for the other two author’s portions also. Nonetheless, she or anyone else citing her part one of the composite article must be able to also reference the sources she used in her portion. The same is true for the other two author’s sections; especially the middle one.

Thus, I guess the citation to the Lankshear, et. al. article ought to be either to separate citations but then how do you indicate that they go together?

Here’s the 2nd one:

Blake, N., and P. Standish. 2000. Bibliography [Journal of the Philosophy of Education 34(1)]. Journal of the Philosophy of Education 34, no. 1 (2): 203-208. doi:10.1111/1467-9752.00167. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.proxy2.library.uiuc.edu/doi/10.1111/1467-9752.00167/abstract.

Or, perhaps it should be something like the following:

Lankshear, C., M. Peters, and M. Knobel. 2000. Information, Knowledge and Learning: Some Issues Facing Epistemology and Education in a Digital Age. Journal of the Philosophy of Education 34, no. 1 (2): 17-39; references on 203-208. doi:10.1111/1467-9752.00153. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.proxy2.library.uiuc.edu/doi/10.1111/1467-9752.00153/abstract.

Do any style guides provide guidance on these sorts of issues? The same sort of problem arises with a book chapter from a book that has endnotes [see my Aside on e-reserves above]. It seems to me that there should be some sort of confluence between publishing practices, citation practices, and the style guides. Publishers should not engage in practices that contravene the dictates of good scholarly practices. And our style guides should cover how to do good scholarship within the dictates of its purview based on the kind of materials those sorts of scholars will be using.

All I can say is it is a mess and I really do not know what to do. The citation to Dervin 1976 at the top of the post comes from how I entered it into Zotero initially after getting it. It is incorrect as it does not tell anyone where the references used in the article are located. Then again, neither does this which is how Dervin cited it in her 1977 article:

Brenda Dervin, “Strategies for Dealing with the Information Needs of Urban Residents: Information of Communication? Journal of Broadcasting 20 (no. 3, Summer 1976): 324-333.

That isn’t even its title.

Strategies for Dealing with Human Information Needs: Information or Communication? – article comments

Dervin, Brenda. 1976. Strategies for Dealing with Human Information Needs: Information of Communication? (Part One of Information: An Answer for Every Question? A Solution for Every Problem?). Journal of Broadcasting 20, no. 3 (Summer): 324-333.

I quite enjoyed this Dervin article.  But what I did not enjoy was not having access to any of the 30 citations!  [A rant on this head is in the works as a separate post.]  This is a mid-70s critique of the influx and impingement of the concept of ‘information’ on the field of communications, the misplaced overemphasis on it in everyday life, and the assumptions behind this which redirects research to the wrong questions.  Also addresses why so many of the things seen in communications research contradict what they assume or are even told is important by subjects.

The main article focuses on 10 assumptions and their ramifications “which have unwittingly hindered efforts focusing on the information “needs” of average citizens” (326). These are:

  1. Objective information is the only valuable information.
  2. If a little information is good, a lot must be better.
  3. Objective information can be transmitted out of context.
  4. Information is acquired only through formal information systems.
  5. Information is relevant to every urban need.
  6. Every need situation has a solution.
  7. Information that is not now available or accessible can be made so.
  8. The functional units of our information systems equal the functional units of users of those systems.
  9. Time and space can be ignored.
  10. The connections between external information and internal information can be assumed (326, direct quote).

Again, not really a review.  I pulled out some choice bits, for my purposes anyway, and added some commentary.  My goal in these article commentaries is to give you enough that might entice you into reading them for yourself if they fit your research or interests and not to make it so you do not need to.

“Directly or indirectly, each of these scholars has begun to take the scientist’s dilemma of “creation versus discovery” and pull it out for review. Does humankind discover reality (and, therefore, simply collect information about it)? or does it create and invent reality?

The question is not answerable. But, we behave as if it is. Despite the relativistic nature of our empirical findings, we continue to assume that objective information about reality is obtainable. We assume that only if we work hard enough, long enough, we can have complete knowledge and that knowledge is orderable.3 We assume there is a given order and we are but discovering and confirming it. …

… This view of knowledge essentially posits homosapiens as a totally adaptive creature, using information about reality to adapt to reality. Yet, the history of humankind is marked … by creation, invention, and control of surroundings. Humankind at least in part, creates its own reality” (325) [some formatting issues left in].

The above addresses a fundamental disconnect between communication theory and reality-as-observed.

A “three-type formulation of information is suggested as potentially more useful than our current cybernetic denotation of the term10” (326).

“Information1 – the innate structure or pattern of reality; adaptive information; objective information; data” (326). [Only included as this kind comes under critique below.  If you want to know all 3 read the article.]

The following will address bits and pieces from the sections on the 10 assumptions.

A1 : Misses a “great deal of information-relevant behavior because it appears in unexpected places” (327).

Exactly!  Information science (IS) is just as guilty of this.  Well, truthfully, IS is guilty of all of these, or certainly was in 1976.  We, as well as Comm, have made some progress I would like to believe.  Our theories are beginning to back away from these seriously limiting assumptions but I see little evidence of that theoretical progress informing the design of our systems.

A1 : “Instead of positing the use of advice, rules, and interpersonal help as an informing function (information3), we label this high use of informal sources as a “law of least effort” that operates in the acquisition of information” (327).

Reading this was like the hard slap in the face that I needed.  Besides the (seeming) general insider superiority of one uttering the “law of least effort” I was also bothered by it for reasons I could not put my finger on.  But this so-called law has simply been a smoke screen for our (and Comm’s) unwillingness to tackle the complexities of behavior and situations “covered” by this law.  It is not a law; it is simply laziness on our part.  And damaging laziness at that. Please realize that I am not saying that no one takes the road of least effort on occasion, myself included, but that much of what is covered by this “law” is not that. It only looks that way to us as we, as researchers, have taken the same road and have not adequately theorized the divergent behaviors we have lumped together under this “law.”

A2 : “Yet, if individual knowing is some unknown combination of objective reality plus personal reality, then being informed is not the same thing as having information1. We have focused on the “information” and not the “informing”" (328).

We are so utterly guilty as charged here.  As is much of society, popular and scientific, which seems to think that having or supplying information is the same as being informed/informing.

A3 : The assumption of objective information mapping to reality and that this is orderable leads to certain approaches to education and the mass media.  “We are bombarded with isolated facts. Because each fact is assumed to have a proper place, each fact is assumed to have informing utility” (328).  But this approach leads to much information being “rejected and ignored as being irrelevant and meaningless” (329).

There is also a tie-in to information literacy (IL) instruction here due to the fact that “our education system is geared primarily for the transmission of information1 rather than instruction and practice on how to become informed” (329).  If our educational system did focus on these important areas of becoming/being informed then there would be less need for IL at the college-level, or perhaps it could focus primarily on library-related systems instead of the ridiculous breadth of topics IL instruction is trying to undertake today; particularly ridiculous given the extremely limited amount of time instruction librarians have with students.

A6 : “We equate having solutions [which is "(after all, the raison d'être of the the system …)"] with being informed, being able to construct one’s own reality, being able to develop personal answers20” (330).

But see work on medical communication and seriously ill patients frustration with the system.

A8 : “As citizen’s begin to use information1 systems “designed for them,” they collide with those systems. The citizens, on the one hand, are asking for functional units that are meaningful to them. The systems, on the other, are protecting the functional units in which they have vested units” (331).  Kapitzke also had a critique on this head as it relates to IL, although I did not address it in my post.

A9 : While we have acknowledged that people are embedded in social situations, we have been on a quest for situation-free generalizations. … Yet, we continue to search for enduring personally traits, enduring information processing strategies” (331-2).

A10 : We assume the connections between external reality and internal reality must exist based on the assumption of an ordered universe. But we do not study them. “Thus, we know little about how people do inform themselves and make connections30” (332).

I apologize for not being able to tell you what those superscripts refer to.  Keep watch for a rant on that topic.  Soon.

Cited by:

Dervin, Brenda. 1977. Useful theory for librarianship: Communication, not information. Drexel Library Quarterly 13: 16-32.

Information Literacy: A Positivist Epistemology and a Politics of Outformation – article comments

Kapitzke, Cushla. 2003. Information Literacy: A Positivist Epistemology and a Politics of Outformation. Educational Theory 53, no. 1: 37-53. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-5446.2003.00037.x.

I wrote on the paper after finishing it, “provides a valuable critique of entrenched views (positivist?) of knowledge, information, and learning; but assumes postmodernism and the digital age have changed everything, when in fact, these critiques have existed for a long time and ought be fully applied to a non- or pre-digital world also. Thus, ahistorical.”

I think this article does provide a very valuable critique not only of the assumptions behind and motivations driving information literacy but also of entrenched views of knowledge, information, and learning in the educational system, libraries, and librarianship (and by extension, in information science).

The article is situated within the context of school education, professionally trained media center specialists and teacher-librarians and employs a poststructuralist theoretical perspective (37).

Article outline:

  • Libraries as Contexts for Literacies
  • Information Literacy as Panacea
  • Information Literacy: Defining the Indefinable
  • Information Literacy: A Poststructuralist Critique
  • Toward a Hyperliteracy
  • Conclusion

“My thesis is that, because of its positivist philosophical orientation, the information literacy framework is incompatible with emergent concepts of knowledge and epistemology for digital and online environments” (38).

As I stated above, these emergent concepts have been emerging for a while; in some cases, quite a while. But the point is still a valuable one and should be taken seriously.

“In sum, the notion of being “information literate” was the library profession’s response to technological change and to the proliferation of information. [19] Perhaps it is timely to consider whether a preoccupation with technologization has caused them to overlook less tangible but more profound developments around issues of knowledge and epistemology” (42).

[19] Sorry, this footnote is too long and has too many sources for me to type here.

I think the first statement there is an overstatement. It is certainly one way to spin the story but it is certainly only one of many, and it is overly simplistic. Perhaps just as, or more, relevant would be the search for professional relevance. No doubt, there are others.

“Furthermore, resource and information use in schools is framed within the discourse of positivism and based on three misconceptions: (1) the school library provides a neutral service, (2) the library user is an autonomous individual, and (3) language is a transparent conduit for the transmission of meaning in information” (45).

Clearly, all of these are highly flawed views. For general information on positivism see the Positivism article at WikipediaThe Enlightenment also receives a fair few lashes of the rhetorical whip in this article, some of which is justified.

Again, these critiques are valuable and generally spot on, but they also precede the poststructuralist/postmodernist. Postmodernism invented little, or nothing, that did not already exist. It only collected many of these, tossed them all together as if in doing so they could cohere in a sense that was hauntingly similar to the sense of coherence of knowledge that they were critiquing.

“Library practice and the discipline of information science are deeply rooted in Enlightenment notions of Western science. Library science literature shows how the spatial organization of knowledge in libraries contributed to the institutionalization of scientific knowledge through the classification and physical arrangement of collections into orders of hierarchical materials [32]. These materials—served historically to construct and privilege disciplinary and curricular boundaries. Librarian and library user alike viewed print collections as reifications of natural and social realities and of the research practices for defining and objectifying those realities” (45).

[32] John M. Budd, “An Epistemological Foundation for Library and Information Science,” Library Quarterly 65, no. 3 (1995): 295-319.

No argument from me on this one.

“Libraries are one of the “most visible and important temples” erected by society to the positivist belief in an ordered world that can be described and classified according to a set of universal principles” (46).

I would argue that this belief seriously predates positivism.

In describing the tension between order and disorder, Kapitzke takes a particularly cheap shot at librarians by mentioning that, “Classical and popular literature alike, …, provide memorable cameos of stereotyped, repressed librarians, victims of their own fetish for organization and order [37]” (46). I am really unsure what this is supposed to do in support of the case being made.

[37] Gary P. Radford and Marie L. Radford, “Power, Knowledge, and Fear: Feminism, Foucault, and the Stereotype of the Female Librarian,” Library Quarterly 67, no. 3 (1997): 250-267.

Here are some quotes showing what I think is a lack of correct application of the critique being made, and/or an overemphasis on the poststructuralist critique and the digital:

“Linear and hierarchical approaches to thinking and learning are inadequate for the webbed cyberspace of information” (47).

No, they are inadequate, period.

“Within the present context of an information glut, librarians and users spend their time not so much searching but interpreting, filtering, and value-adding by creating relationships among ideas across a range of media” (47).

This should happen glut or no, digital or no. And, I would argue has applied for centuries, if not millennia. And, of course, if one wanted it can be, and has been, argued that an information glut has existed for almost as long as humans have recorded information. Regardless, even in some mythical state of being involving the perfect amount of information (whatever that might be), the primary purpose of librarians and users of libraries ought be “interpreting, filtering, and value-adding by creating relationships among ideas across a range of media” and whatever other description you want to add that adds up to the creation of meaning. Searching, even for librarians, is never an end in itself.

One more example of this myopic view of the digital and the new:

“The proliferation of chaotic digital information, and the increasing disparity of end-point textual products and knowledges, have created a situation where knowledge is located not so much in the text as such, but in the co-construction of situated meanings among learner, teacher, and media center specialist” (48).

It has always been thus; we have just pretended otherwise.

The author’s suggested solution is a “hyperliteracy.”

“The concept of “information literacy” privileges the role of information in learning and teaching” (50). I agree with this but would also argue that this is due to the prior privileging of information and, thus, the problem is much larger than information literacy.

“A hyperliteracy approach draws from and extends two theories of literacy pedagogy: multiliteracies and intermediality [50] Hyperliteracy represents approaches to text, authorship, and knowledge that are located within a postpositivist paradigm. They seek to problematize their own assumptions and practices” (50).

[50] The New London Group, “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures,” in Multiliteracies, eds. Cope and Kalantzis; and Ladislaus M. Semali and Ann Watts Pailliotet, eds., Intermediality: The Teachers’ Handbook of Critical Media Literacy (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999).

If you want more information on this topic see the article or perhaps those sources, which I doubt I will be tracking down. [That is not meant as a statement or critique of those sources but just that this is not my arena for now. At the moment, I am far more interested in the critique of the concept and practice of information literacy than in any suggested cures.]

“Disciplinary logics and rationalities different from those imposed by Aristotle, Melvil Dewey, or the Library of Congress are now possible” (53).

Um, yes. And they have been for *a very long time.*

All in all, I think this article provides a very valuable critique of information literacy and continuing established views of learning, knowledge and atomized information. But its biggest fault lies in the importance that it overly attaches to the poststructuralist/postmodernist critique. This fault does not invalidate the critique in any way, but it does cast a pallor over the rhetoric employed to make its points.

2 articles by Archie Dick

In the last two days I have read two papers by Archie L. Dick.  Yesterday I read “Epistemological Positions and Library and Information Science” and this morning I read “Restoring knowledge as a theoretical focus of library and…”.  [OK, we all know that is not its title but more on that later.] [Really were read 30 & 31 Aug.]

As of now, Archie Dick is my newest intellectual crush!  I thoroughly enjoyed both of these papers and look forward to finding and reading more of his work.

Dick, A.L. 1995. Restoring knowledge as a theoretical focus of library and… South African Journal of Library & Information Science 63, no. 3 (September): 99. doi:Article. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tfh&AN=9603201479&site=ehost-live.  

Dick, Archie L. 1999. Epistemological Positions and Library and Information Science. The Library Quarterly 69, no. 3 (July): 305-323. http://www.jstor.org.proxy2.library.uiuc.edu/stable/4309336.  

“Epistemological Positions and Library and Information Science” addresses “the general neglect of epistemology as a topic of professional and methodological concern” (305) and advocates for a holistic perspectivism.

The sections of this paper are:

  • The Unknown Influence
  • Getting to Know How We Know in LIS
  • General Complexities of Examining Epistemology in LIS
  • Specific Difficulties of Examining Epistemology in LIS
  • Ways of Knowing in LIS
  • A Way to Go for the Ways to Know in LIS
  • Holistic Perspectivism
  • Conclusion

As one may guess from that outline, the metaepistemological framework that Dick argues for is one of holistic perspectivism.

“Holistic perspectivism therefore recognizes that several epistemological positions (perspectivism) provide the bases for justifying a range of knowledge claims related to social wholes (holism) in LIS. As a purportedly valid perception of some aspect of LIS, each perspective or epistemological position provides, in essence, a partial view on that aspect. Dialectical tension with other perspectives or epistemologies facilitates the continuous growth of valid knowledge in LIS” (318).

This is certainly not an “anything goes” relativism, though.

Dick states that there are “[t]wo central questions that epistemology in LIS seeks to answer” (without exhausting the scope thereof) (306). These are: “(a) How much of what LIS claims to know on the basis of its modes of professional practice and research traditions can indeed be justified on the basis of evidence for its claims? and (b) What type of knowledge is bibliothecal knowledge …?” (307).

As is the case in any endeavor, but especially in one that professes to be a profession, and perhaps even a science, “the intentional or unconscious espousal of an epistemological position holds definite implications for how they practice their profession and conduct scientific research [20]” (307).

In the section “A Way to Go for the Ways to Know in LIS” he discusses processes of epistemology substitution and epistemology elimination, which, for me, has some definite similarities to W. McNeill’s critique of myth destruction in Mythistory.

This then leads us into his views on holistic perspectivism, which I find a convincing discussion of the sort of pluralism we need to actively embrace in our field.

I was led to this article by Smiraglia (2002) which I had meant to blog but may well not get to now. Recommended reading though.

Smiraglia, Richard P. 2002. The Progress of Theory in Knowledge Organization. Library Trends 50, no. 3 (Winter): 330-349. http://hdl.handle.net/2142/8414.

[20] Harding, Sandra. 1988. Practical Consequences of Epistemological Choices. Communication & Cognition 21: 153-155.

“Restoring Knowledge as a Theoretical Focus of Library and Information Science” is concerned with the shift from knowledge to information as the theoretical basis of library and information science.  Using this context he also explains the shift from the myth of library as place to the myth of the electronic library.  Considering that this article was published in 1995 I see this piece as highly prescient.  And, again, I see a direct connection with McNeill as Dick is using “myth” in a sense similar to McNeill and not in the late 20th century derogatory sense of “myth.”

I found this article excellent, prescient, and highly valuable to my developing critique of “information” as a basis for librarianship (and information science).

The sections of this article seem to be:

  • Introduction (unlabeled)
  • Different responses
  • Value of conceptions of knowledge in the context of LIS
  • Approaches to knowledge
  • Divergent conceptions of knowledge in LIS literature
    • Knowledge as an interrelated, dynamic unit
    • Knowledge as differentiated into distinct types
    • Knowledge as exosomatic and publicly accessible
    • Conceptions of unrecorded knowledge
    • Knowledge–information relationship
      • Equivalent
      • Hierarchical
      • Dichotomous
      • Continuum
      • Knowledge as a Dialectical process
  • Conception of knowledge supporting the meaning of information in LIS
  • Knowledge as a theoretical focus in LIS’s future
  • Conclusion

Regarding myth, he also provides the most blatant explanation of the ‘origin myth’ of information science that I have yet seen.

I will leave that discussion and the following brilliant critique of the conception of knowledge and information that that leads to to the effort of the interested reader. This discussion leads to another critical reason why it is that professional librarians and information scientists must be epistemologically aware of their commitments, theoretical and practical.

This article made my day! If you have any itch to be scratched regarding the importance of epistemology in LIS you would be hard pressed to do better than beginning with these 2 articles. If you desire further suggestions for reading on this topic do not hesitate to contact me as I would be more than glad to provide some suggestions.

Regarding the elided title and the seeming sectioning: Library databases have been giving me fits lately. Part of the problem is that now that I am 10 hours away from the wonderful LIS collections of UIUC I have to get a lot of older stuff electronically that I could have easily photocopied.  Or even, heaven forbid, ILL the article and suffer someone else’s horrible job at photocopying.  These assorted gripes may have to wait for a separate post.  But back to this article.

I had to get this electronically, and thankfully it is available in some form, from EBSCO Professional Development Collection.  The only option is a full-text HTML file.  This file has absolutely no pagination indications, except for the starting page number listed in the article metadata section at the top of the page, and the title as I typed it at the top of the page. Also, the HTML markup of sections is not at all clear as to the actual hierarchy of the sectioning as, no doubt, the print version’s typography would have made abundantly clear.

EBSCO finds this scholarship so important that they provide me no real means of citing a paper that I find exceptionally important, and they even elide the article title in the provided metadata. Apoplexy, I have it.

User studies, information science, and communication – article commentary

Katzer, Jeffrey. 1987. User studies, information science, and communication. Canadian Journal of Information Science 12, no. 3: 15-30.

Argues that changes in technology, the economics of info systems, and previous research into information behavior is pushing information science to more complexity and predicts that it will become more like the field of communication.

“What has been recommended is to add, as central to our endeavor, a more comprehensive consideration of meaning, intention, cognitive components of personality, and many other topics which have previously been viewed as more a part of the social-behavioral sciences than as integral to information science. The suggestion is that information science can add these topics and incorporate them into our field as add-ons—much like the extra features we’ve jury-rigged onto our systems over the years to overcome acknowledged deficiencies.

I disagree. Any explicit and significant increase in our consideration of meaning, intention, and cognition will affect our field fundamentally. It will bring into question the basic paradigm which has guided our research activities, our educational programs, and our service philosophies. It will ultimately change the very nature of who we are. Conceptually, if not practically, all of information science, but especially information behaviors and information retrieval, will be more profitably seen and understood in the context of human communication” (16).

Various critiques of user studies along the axes of population studied, central focus, information channel, major variables, research methods, and applicability are presented.

Argues that the “often implicit assumptions which underlie how we approach the design of our systems and the provision of information services” no longer serves us and are untenable as they present “an overly simplistic model of human behavior …” (18).

These assumptions under the heads of information needs, information user, and information uses are interrogated. As Katzer states, these assumptions when boldly (and one might add, baldly) stated would be found wanting (18).

The author points to (then) current research showing the limits of, or invalidating, these assumptions and brings attention to those who were calling for information science to become a social science, and perhaps even like the field of human communication.

“It is interesting to note who are making these recommendations. The arguments to consider our field a social science have come almost exclusively from either European-trained information scientists such as Belkin, Brittain, Roberts, or Wilson, or from U.S.-trained communications researchers such as Dervin or Paisley” (20).

Reasons are provided for the affinity between the groups.

Katzer’s main call is not for the subsumption of one discipline into another, but “is a recommendation to consider those principles and practices found in the field of human communication which look as if they could be fruitfully applied in our research” (21).  Along these lines, the author looks at what may be of value from the field of human communications regarding the information channel, meaning, process, and outcomes.

Some of what is presented could easily be presented in an Integrational framework. In the section on Process, Katzer writes: “Communication is a process which occurs over time and in a specific context” (22). It also ties into a domain analytic view; also in Process, “… the fact that communication effects are almost always domain-specific” (23).

Next, the author provides some examples of application of “communication mechanisms to information science” (24).

While discussing cognitive similarity and organizational operators Katzer writes, “The point is to discover the microculture values (which goes beyond the topic), and to use those operators, norms, or success factors to improve our understanding of the user’s information behaviors” (25-6). That could easily be under the macrosocial aspect of Integrationism.

This paper relied heavily on the work of Brenda Dervin and pointed me to several Dervin citations. It isn’t like I have never seen them, but I had only read Dervin & Nilan’s ARIST chapter, “Information needs and uses.” [citation below]

I have been meaning to look more formally into Dervin’s Sense-Making Methodology so this was a useful reminder that I need to do that work. The situation has been remedied and I am working my way through a fair bit of her corpus. I was planning to discuss her article “Useful Theory for Librarianship: Communication, Not Information” next, which is one he cited, but think I will hold off for now. I will say that I enjoyed it and found it useful, although I must jettison her view of information as espoused in the article.

Regarding the progress of research in our field since Katzer’s critique was written I have no doubt that some researchers have adopted more of a communicational stance toward our field.  I do not, though, feel that it has been enough.

For me this paper fits well into the sociohistorical view of our field that I am constructing for myself.  It provides a good look at the communicational critique and the response of the field at a specific point in time in which the field was beginning to take these critiques more seriously.  It has helped me to make sense of, or, more accurately, progress toward making sense of, the need for a view of our field that is more aligned with the way we actually communicate.

By the way, a big shout out to Christina Pikas for telling me a couple of years ago to look at Dervin, among others. I knew she was correct but just couldn’t find the time.

Dervin, Brenda. 1977. Useful theory for librarianship: Communication, not information. Drexel Library Quarterly 13: 16-32.

Dervin, Brenda, and Kathleen Clark. 1987. ASQ: Alternative tools for information need and accountability assessments by libraries. Belmont, CA: Peninsula Library System for the California State Library, July.

Dervin, Brenda, and Michael Nilan. 1986. Information needs and uses. In Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 21:3-33. Knowledge Industry Publications.

See also [this is mostly for me: Some things read this week, 26 August – 1 September 2007 ]:

Roberts, Norman. 1976. Social Considerations Towards a Definition of Information Science. Journal of Documentation 32, no. 4 (December): 249-257.

Information Literacy as a Sociotechnical Practice

Tuominen, Kimmo, Reijo Savolainen, and Sanna Talja. 2005. Information Literacy as a Sociotechnical Practice. The Library Quarterly 75, no. 3 (July 1): 329-345. doi:10.1086/497311.

I found this article on the main page of Library Quarterly‘s website as one of the most cited when I went looking for Archie Dick’s 1988 article on epistemologies in LIS [to be discussed soon].

I quite enjoyed this article as for me the upshot, in essence, is that they align information literacy with a domain-centric viewpoint.

The authors, whom I have read several papers by, whether together or with other authors, are social constructionists.  I am not quite sure how this theory and its close “rivals” fit in with my work. They all have distinct advantages to their way of looking at the world, but none of them focus on all that is relevant. As of now, I am a pluralist as far as these theories go. I feel that slavish adherence to one and only one would cause one to miss other relevant and important ways of viewing the world, or the slice of the world one is trying to analyze. [See my upcoming comments on A. Dick's holistic perspectivism.]

As it stands, social constructionism seems only slightly orthogonal to Hjørland’s domain analytic view.

Let me state up front that information literacy (hereafter IL or info lit) is not my arena.  Also, this paper is 5 years old so some of the critiques that it makes of our professional organizations’ formal statements on IL may have been addressed. Then again, as fast as our professional organizations move I would not count on that either.

Outline of article:

  • Introduction
  • The Background of the Information Literacy Movement
  • The IL Debate
  • Conceptions of Information and Learners in the Generic Skills Approach
  • The Social Context of Information Literacy
  • Information Literacy as a Sociotechnical Problem
  • Conclusion

I am not going to cover much in the way of their critiques of these formal statements. But I will say that I fully agree with them.  I guess I’ll quote this passage as a reasonable summation of their critique but be aware it is more varied and detailed than this makes it sound:

“The IL movement has not often seriously attempted to call its own premises into question or to suspend the obvious and, as a result, has been preoccupied with the binary logic of discerning facts from nonfacts and biased from nonbiased information. Such dichotomies reflect the values of traditional print culture, however, rather than the social and multimodal networked technological environments. In interactive digital environments, actors can simultaneously be readers and writers, consumers, and producers of knowledge. Knowledge is not located in texts as such—or in the individual’s head. Rather, it involves the coconstruction of situated meanings [33, p. 48] and takes place in networks of actors and artifacts” (337-8).

[33] Kapitzke, Cushla. (see below)

The authors’ critique of info lit comes from the literature on “The IL Debate.” It begins with a simple but important observation attributed to Mutch. “The difficulties with the IL concept stem partly from the fact that it marries two concepts (information and literacy) that in themselves are ambiguous and resist exact definitions [29]” (332).

[29] Mutch, Alistair. “Information Literacy: An Exploration.” International Journal of Information Management 17, no. 5 (1997): 377-86

That simple critique, in and of itself, ought give one pause regarding any attempt at defining “information literacy.” [Damn! I know I written about definitions on my blog in the past but I cannot find anything useful. I really and truly need a powerful blog search engine for my own blog; natively, that is. Anyway, this reminds me that I really need to reread Harris and Hutton on definition and write a one-page statement of my views on the topic.]

“The term “practice” shifts the focus away from the behavior, action, motives, and skills of monologic individuals.  Teams, groups, and organizations can be seen as the entities that become information literate in a specific knowledge domain, that is, they enact information practices and use suitable technical tools. Seeing IL as consisting of sociotechnical practices that differ from one knowledge domain to another mandates empirical research efforts that concentrate on actual organizational environments and on routine and mundane ways of performing situated actions and interactions with and through social and technical resources needed for their accomplishment.

What we propose here is that as practices give rise to individuals as epistemic subjects in the fist place, they are primary in understanding the acts and deeds of individuals” (339).

There is much more in this article that should help one rethink, or think about for the first time, the traditional, and mostly implicit, assumptions of information literacy. This view does, in fact, complicate IL but then many of our concepts need a little (or a lot of) complication.

I find it powerful and useful in that it makes IL more about the actual processes of human communication; more social, as literacy is; and firmly situates IL in domain practices.

Highly recommended.

Harris, Roy, and Christopher Hutton. 2007. Definition in Theory and Practice: Language, Lexicography and the Law. London: Continuum.

Kapitzke, Cushla. 2003. Information literacy: A postivist epistemology and a politics of outformation. Educational Theory 53, no. 1: 37-53. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-5446.2003.00037.x.

A Grand Unified Theory of Librarianship. Seriously?

McGrath, William E. 2002. Explanation and Prediction: Building a Unified Theory of Librarianship, Concept and Review. Library Trends 50, no. 3 (Winter): 350-370. http://hdl.handle.net/2142/8420.

 

McGrath advocates that we need a Unified Theory of Librarianship and outlines what he considers to be “some of the traditional areas of concern to librarianship” which will have to be subsumed into such a theory.  He provides some ideas on what kinds of studies we would need to allow us to generate an overarching theory of LIS and lists some (then) recent studies that fit or demonstrate this mode.

According to McGrath, the traditional areas to be considered are: publishing, acquisitions, storage and preservation, classification and organization of knowledge, collections, and circulation.  As he admits on page 356, he completely ignores “the digital revolution” as he believes “while the production of electronic databases, the World Wide Web, and the Internet is technology, their use can be described in terms of traditional library functions.”  While this is, in fact, true it is also an extremely limiting view.  The “digital revolution” has progressed to the point where simply trying to describe it in the terms and categories of traditional librarianship is not a healthy way to move the profession forward. It is, in my opinion, the opposite.

One of my largest areas of complaint with the article is in his treatment of classification and organization of knowledge.  I find it lacking in several ways.

His initial sentences in the section CLASSIFICATION just bother me:

“The classification scheme used by the library is a major property of the collection.  The scheme reflects the librarians’ perceptions of how knowledge is organized or structured” (354).

One can certainly make both of these claims and, in a sense, they are true.  But I do not believe either of them.  The classification scheme, one or more (more in a perfect world) is applied to the collection and provides one form of order to it, but it is not an inherent property of the collection.  That is, the number of books in a collection, whether or not scholarly journals are present, whether or not some edition of  “Tom Sawyer” is present are all facts about, and in a sense properties of, the collection.  But the classification scheme can only be stated as to which is applied, or what to each specific book.  The facts about the classification scheme seem, to me, to be of a different kind and are not inherent in the collection itself. I know that wasn’t explained well but I am having a hard time expressing what I think.

As to his second statement in that quote, while at some historical point it is true that the classification “scheme reflects the librarians’ perceptions of how knowledge is organized or structured” it is also simply not the case at all. I find it hard to believe that many librarians, and especially catalogers and classification theorists, would agree that our library classifications reflect the structure of knowledge, except in some simplistic(and ultimately pragmatic) way.

Take, for instance, the libraries of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Most of the forty or so remaining libraries are organized using the Dewey Decimal System. One of the largest libraries in the world is still using a scheme that is entirely inappropriate for one of its size and complexity. Why is that? Institutional inertia and lack of funds are two of the primary reasons. Discussion of switching to LCC has arisen repeatedly over the decades. Early on it was probably doable but for whatever reasons the choice was rejected. At this point, which has been “this point” for a decade or more now, it is simply inconceivable to switch. The costs and time frame to do so are so out-of-hand that it can never happen.  What can, and may, happen is that they will start doing new acquisitions in LCC and they will end up with a divided classification system complicating life for all concerned, but especially for the users. There is really no way in which it can be said that DDC reflects the UIUC librarians’ view of the structure of knowledge.

Also in the section on CLASSIFICATION, McGrath states:

“Because society is mutable, no classification theory can ever be enduring. Nevertheless, we can still look for structure in knowledge. And even though structure many not be permanent, principles are permanent and are reason enough to look for more enduring structure” (354).

Most of that I fully agree with. But I am really beginning to wonder how permanent the principles really are. They may last longer than the classification systems which are built upon them but the world is changing so rapidly, and the amount of things needing some form of bibliographic control increasing seemingly exponentially, that it seems to me that the principles are being pushed harder and harder and that some of them are at a breaking point, if not already broken.

When I got to the Classification and Organization of Knowledge section of included studies I realized another issue I have with his plan. Earlier we got simply CLASSIFICATION, with organization of knowledge sort of subsumed under it. But that is the wrong way round. Classification is a part, a small part, of the organization of knowledge. But even in this section where they get equal billing in the heading the studies are primarily about classification and its intersection with circulation, browsability and so forth. There is no discussion of, or studies to support, any kind of issues in descriptive cataloging. This oversight would be a major roadblock to any sort of unified theory.

In fact, this is one of those areas where the “digital revolution” is seriously playing havoc with our principles and our practices. What sort of descriptive cataloging is required, or not, when a resource can “describe itself” and the system can make use of those self-describing resources in new and novel ways; ways that our users are turning to more and more. These are fundamental questions in the area of organization of knowledge.

Besides leaving out the digital he also, admittedly, does not address—”the psychology of users and librarians, attitudinal studies, organizational behavior, interaction with other disciplines, scientometrics and informetrics, individual scholarly productivity, citation analysis, LIS education, welfare and status of librarians (tenure, salaries, and prestige), and so on” (356). It seems to me that an awful lot that would be required to turn all of this into a “Unified Theory of Librarianship” is being sketched so broadly, or simply ignored for the purpose of publishable article length, that to even consider the possibility of such a unified theory is hardly thinkable. There. I’ve played my cards. I do think this is a fool’s errand.

As for the studies he included as support towards a possible unified theory, he only included those that use quantitative methods or those which could be quantified. So I guess only the quantitative can make it into a grand unified theory of librarianship. Because, you know, librarianship and information science are such a natural sciences. Well, considering that in the end the Grand Unified Theory of physics will, in my humble opinion, leave out much of what is truly important and ultimately meaningful about the world, as it will include nothing qualitative, I fail to see why we should pursue such an ugly beast.

Besides, the incredible number of studies, even if restricted to the quantifiable, that would be necessary to get us anywhere near a grand unified theory are important in their own right and should be done. And, in fact, they will have to be done first, along with the small and medium-scale theorizing that is necessary to move our field forward.

So whether or not we can, or should, pursue such a beast is currently unanswerable. We are simply too far away from the goal posts. In fact, I fear we are so far away from such an overarching theory that one might say that we aren’t even sure what sport it is we are playing, much less our being “on the field.”