Kuhlthau – Seeking Meaning

This is my 4th book review for the 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge.

I mostly enjoyed this book, which I read from 10 October to 26 November.  It is written fairly straightforwardly, is reasonably well edited, and has a better than average physical layout.

The last couple of chapters do seem fairly repetitive.  The last chapter seems particularly so.  Well that it should, as it is the wrap-up and conclusion; but somehow it doesn’t seem like it is seriously serving that purpose, only that it is repetitive.  All in all, this is a small gripe.

The ideas in this book, centering around the Information Search Process (ISP), are important ones.  Keep in mind, the ISP is for more complex tasks, such as researching and writing a term paper or preparing a case for trial, for example, and not for simple fact-finding questions.

  • Ch. 1 The Constructive Process in Library and Information Science Theory
  • Ch. 2 Learning as a Process
  • Ch. 3 The Information Search Process
  • Ch. 4 Verification of the Model of the Information Search Process
  • Ch. 5 Longitudinal Confirmation of the Information Search Process
  • Ch. 6 Uncertainty Principle
  • Ch. 7 Roles of Mediators in the Process of Information Seeking
  • Ch. 8 Zones of Intervention in the Process of Information Seeking
  • Ch. 9 Implementing the Process Approach
  • Ch. 10 Information Search Process in the Workplace
  • Ch. 11 Process-Oriented Library and Information Services

The “book is about library and information services for intellectual access to information and ideas, and the process of seeking meaning” (xv).

It proposes a process approach, the ISP, based on: Constructivist theory of learning – John Dewey (provides historical & philosophical perspective); Personal construct theory – George Kelly (provides psychological perspective); and an Integrated perspective – Jerome Bruner (xvi).

It critiques the bibliographical paradigm and systems approach that remain predominant within library and information science (LIS); at least within the literature.  This does seem to be slowly changing, though.

Much of what Kuhlthau writes seems highly integrational to me.

A model of sense-making information seeking should incorporate three realms of activity: physical, affective, cognitive. These form a complex interplay.

“The criteria for making these choices are influenced as much by environmental constraints, such as prior experience, knowledge, interest, information available, requirements of the problem, and time allotted for resolution, as they are by the relevance of the content of the information retrieved” (6).

The ISP is a 6 stage model which associates the feelings (affective), thoughts (cognitive), and actions (physical) that accompany each task and the process of moving along the information search process.

Initiation, when a person becomes aware of a lack of knowledge or understanding so that uncertainty and apprehension are common

Selection, when a general area or topic is identified and initial uncertainty often gives way to a brief sense of optimism and a readiness to begin the search

Exploration, when inconsistent, incompatible information is encountered and uncertainty, confusion, and doubt frequently increase

Formulation, when a focused perspective on the problem is formed and uncertainty diminishes as confidence begins to increase

Collection, when information pertinent to the focused problem is gathered and uncertainty subsides as interest and involvement in the project deepens

Presentation, when the search is completed, with a new understanding of the problem enabling the user to explain his or her learning to others (165-166)

I think these ideas are extremely valuable and that they ought be taught to children in school as early as they begin doing projects of this kind of scope.  Kuhlthau reports on some studies where this was done in the book.

All in all, I think the ideas in this book need to be given far more prominence in our schools and our libraries.  Students should be educated in this process from a fairly early age.

LIS services and systems should take this model into account when they are designed and implemented.  Reference and instruction can certainly benefit from the model; but our systems ought also be designed to assist with the process.  The old bibliographic paradigm and systems view that provides one or more “relevant” sources for the user is a failed paradigm.  This claim of failure is mine (and others) based on many things external to this book.  I believe Kuhlthau would agree that it is a failed paradigm but I do not think she showed that as well as she might have, nor do I believe she used the word “failed.”  Although, to be fair, the book is not about the bibliographic paradigm, nor the systems view, so she probably dedicated a reasonable amount of space to her critique.

My concern is the same as with all similar sorts of reform of our services and systems.  Where will the time come from?  This is not something that can happen in a one off instruction session.  Also, it needs to happen at a much earlier age than when students get to college.  But so much needs to change in our educational system, and society, before I can see a strong emphasis on teaching something like the ISP, that I have little hope that much progress can be made.

But. If for whatever reason you are still doing information seeking for complex tasks, such as writing long papers (thesis, perhaps) maybe learning a bit about the ISP might help you understand the kinds of feeling and thoughts that go along with the process as well as understanding the proper attitude to take towards your information seeking at each stage.

Recommended for reference librarians, instruction librarians, those who routinely undertake reasonably complex information seeking tasks, and anyone interested.

The following is a link to something I wrote a bit over 6 years ago in one of my early required masters courses regarding an article by Kuhlthau: Kuhlthau’s ISP Model

Looks like I finally got around to reading Seeking Meaning, and I stand by what I wrote way back when.

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.

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.

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.

Some things read lately, or, new shit has come to light

This blog used to have a “feature” entitled “Some Things Read This Week” but I ended it before my blogging dropped completely from sight. With no promises one way or the other I’d like to start blogging again about some of the things I read.

As I said a couple of posts back:

I am ramping back up the work on my CAS thesis via several angles of attack. I am working on the paper proper and I am also working on a journal article, which will be highly related (as in with a little reworking can become a chapter), and I am thinking about trying to come up with a presentation for a conference in early December. The conference is “Semantics for Robots: Utopian and Dystopian Visions in the Age of the ‘Language Machine’. ‘The Language Machine’ is one of Roy Harris’ early books, of course.

Thus, I am reading and taking notes again. Along with trying to “reconstruct” work I have done previously, I am also continuing to pursue these interests further, along with pursuing other interests. In these areas I am also reading and taking notes. Having not written much of anything in quite a while I need to get assorted writing chops back in order, be it annotated bibliographic entries, blog posts, general and specialized note taking, summarizing, journal article(s), or CAS thesis.

So I am going to jump in again. Any feedback is appreciated whether on style, further reading suggestions, etc.

The first article I want to discuss is:

Dill, E. A., & Janke, K. L. (2010). “New shit has come to light”: Information seeking behavior in The Big Lebowski. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1805/2099 [pre-peer reviewed version of a forthcoming article in The Journal of Popular Culture.]

No doubt, many of you saw references to the Dill & Janke article over the last two weeks. Many people, understandably, could not help themselves in mentioning it in one venue or the other. “New shit has come to light” as the title of an academic paper is worth mentioning in its own right, but assuming you get the reference to The Big Lebowski then you doubly could not help yourself. I can appreciate that. And do. So a quick shout out to the two folks I first saw reference it, Dorothea Salo and Christina Pikas [although probably saw the 1st references in twitter].

The first, and perhaps most important, thing I want to say about this article is that I am glad this is going into The Journal of Popular Culture. It is about time some of the research from our field shows up in other places besides our own stodgy journals. Now, I’d much prefer that other LIS research made its way where it is needed and that it was actually being cited and used in other fields. This, though, is a small start. If no one in another field is aware of our work then they cannot and will not use it. And to my knowledge JPC is pretty interdisciplinary.

This article, as noted above, is a preprint of the prior-to-peer-review paper. It will be interesting to see what changes have been made once it is in print. I am looking forward to reading it again for that reason alone.

The paper uses four characters from The Big Lebowski to highlight some differences in information seeking behavior, going from least effective to most. Along the way the authors use assorted LIS literature on information seeking behavior to support their analysis of these characters styles and methods. Or as they say, “This paper analyzes the information seeking behaviors of Donny Kerabatsos, Walter Sobchak, The Dude, and Maude Lebowski through the lenses of a variety of information seeking theories and models” (pp. 2-3).

Their claim is that “The film’s most important contribution to the study of information seeking behavior is its illustration of how a highly complex information search is not about finding the “answer,” but rather is about an individual’s ability to make sense of and create meaning from the process of information seeking (Dervin par. 8)” (p. 2). This I certainly agree with, both the author’s claim and Dervin’s. “Answers” frequently come along for the ride but then an answer is whatever one is willing to (currently) accept as an answer. This is true whether the one is an individual or a social group of any size.

Some of the assorted theories, models, and researchers used to illustrate the characters information seeking behaviors are the following [for the record, some of these are borrowed from outside LIS]:

  • Selection of dubious information sources : Elfreda Chatman studied the working poor, women, prisoners and retirees.
  • People prefer informal sources for spur of the moment info needs : Kirsty Williamson, older adults
  • Information sharing within groups (ostracism/exclusion) :  Eric Jones, et. al.
  • User’s perspective : Carol Kuhlthau
  • Beliefs : Donald Case on J.D. Johnson’s model
  • Personal construct theory : George Kelly
  • Preference for attitudinally consistent info amongst those with strongly held beliefs : Laura Brannon, Michael Tagler and Alice Eagly
  • Competency theory : Justin Kruger and David Dunning
  • Overconfidence as indicator of incompetence : Melissa Gross
  • Invitational attitude (as in “new shit”) [vs. indicative attitude] : Kelly’s personal construct theory
  • Positive attitude : Kuhlthau; and, Eva Jonas, Verena Graupmann and Dieter Frey (dissonance reduction)
  • Openness to experience : Jannica Heinström

If you are interested in any of these ideas and how they affect info seeking behavior, or you are a library-type and fan of TBL then you ought to have a look at either this preprint or the published article [Sure wish I could tell you when that is].

A friend of mine wrote on her blog (private, no link) that she was watching TBL as she was inspired by hearing about this article.  I told her that I enjoyed the article even if some times some of this research is fairly questionable. She responded that she was glad that “our profession has people like you who can quickly identify questionable research.” To which this was my response:

As for quickly recognizing … well, that’s the problem. It isn’t quick. It takes a weirdo like me who actually checks (and then reads) the things people cite. Are the methods appropriate to that kind of study? Can it be generalized? Or does it only apply to upper middle class, white kids, in private schools from the Midwest, and so on? (Like in many disciplines), most are too lazy to check that stuff so even if an author says explicitly not to generalize from their study and gives excellent reasons why not other people will. Some of our most beloved truisms in LIS come from this sort of thing. (Same in other disciplines, too.) Much of it is fairly intuitive, “Oh, you say depressed people have shoddy info behaviors? They give up easily and tend not to trust themselves? Blah. Blah.” Anyway, I wish it were easier so perhaps others would do more of it.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the article and am glad others might see some of this research. I just hope they do their jobs if they want to make use of it and read the actual studies themselves.

I should clarify that I am not saying that any of the research cited in this article is shoddy.  Nor am I saying that it is generally so in info behavior research. The biggest problem as I see it is that someone does a study and for assorted reasons—only one method used where more are appropriate, small sample size, etc.—they clearly state in the section(s) on further research, limitations of their study, and/or conclusions to not generalize, and give excellent reasons not to do so, and the next thing you know the article is cited over and over again as showing “such-and-such behavior” in general, or in a completely different group of people than studied. This happens far more than one would hope. And while I can imagine multiple reasons for it occurring none of them are good.

I have one particular article in mind which we read in our introductory course, LIS501, which studied a very limited and demographically narrow group of fifth-graders (sample size 10, computer-savvy, bright, middle class+, well-funded school district, etc.). The author clearly stated this was an exploratory study and could not be generalized. According to ISI Web of Knowledge this article has been cited 71 times. I have read some of those articles and I noticed their citations to the one I am thinking of. And believe me, their use of this as article as supporting evidence for their claims is in no way appropriate. I imagine many of the uses are appropriate but of the several I have seen none of them are.

I see this repeatedly. But the “ability” to see this sort of thing does not come easy. One must pay attention as one reads. One must look at the citations an author uses, especially if used as support for their argument. And one must often go and read those sources cited.  You certainly do not have to read everything everyone cites but by looking at what is being cited, particularly around an area of your personal interest, you will begin to notice the things being repeatedly cited. At that point, you ought to definitely read those.

None of that is easy. Nor is it quick. It may even increase the amount of crap you read. [Yes, crap gets repeatedly cited.] I imagine that it qualifies as one form of slow reading; at least, I would argue that it does.

Anyway, I am hoping that this article does not get eviscerated before seeing print. Eviscerated? C’mon. You are familiar with The Big Lebowski, aren’t you?