“Technology,” definition, history, and multiple uses of a term

In Fall 2005 I took a class with Prof. Chip Bruce on Pragmatic Technology. One of our assignments was to:

Produce an analysis of one keyword of your choice (see Raymond Williams, Keywords A vocabulary of culture and society. Revised edition. New York: Oxford University Press) for examples. This keyword is not just an index term as in the bibliography, but a core concept for the field. The analysis is a short essay (1-2 pp.) on the definition, history, and multiple uses of a term, which is central to understanding a text or a field of study.

I chose “technology.” This assignment represented 10% of our grade.

I found this little piece the other day while poking around my hard drive and decided I was going to put it here for assorted reasons, if only primarily for myself so I might find it easier in the future.

LIS590PT Fall 2005  Keywords Assignment  Mark Lindner  14 Sep 2005
“Technology,” definition, history, and multiple uses of a term

Plato distinguished Techne (art) from empiriae (knack) as having a logos, a rationale which “necessarily includes a reference to the good served by the art” while knack consists of “rules of thumb based on experience but without any underlying rationale” (Feenberg).

Feenberg argues that we moderns have lost the connection between techne and the good.  “We can still relate to Plato’s emphasis on the need for a rationale, a logos, but we’re not so sure it includes an idea of the good. In fact, we tend to think of technologies as normless, as serving subjective purposes very much as did Plato’s knacks” (Feenberg).

What is the history of technology in between, and is Feenberg correct?  The OED lists several senses of technology that are of relevance to us:

1. a. A discourse or treatise on an art or arts; the scientific study of the practical or industrial arts. (1615 BUCK Third Univ. Eng. xlviii)

b. transf. Practical arts collectively. (1859 R. F. BURTON Centr. Afr. in Jrnl. Geog. Soc. XXIX. 437)

c. With a and pl. A particular practical or industrial art. (1957 Technology Apr. 56/1)

2. The terminology of a particular art or subject; technical nomenclature. (1658 SIR T. BROWNE Gard. Cyrus v.)

Oxford American lists the etymology of technology as from the Greek, tekhnologia systematic treatment, from tekhnê art.

Thus, as far as standard English usage goes technology was earliest applied to language about, or the language of, the practical or industrial arts.  Over time this meaning shifted to the practical arts collectively, and then finally as a referent to any of the individual practical arts.

It seems to me that in American usage that technology has come to shift meaning over the last half-century or so from referring primarily to technoscience or applied science to the machines produced and used by such to primarily refer to the electronic gadgetry of everyday life; personal computers, iPods, DVD players, etc.  Most “normal” Americans think of technology as normless, as Feenberg said.  Atomic bombs, depleted uranium shells, land mines—it all depends on what you do with them.  Their development and existence is morally neutral according to this view.

Philosophers of technology use technology differently than in standard usage, but even there the meaning has shifted over the last sixty or so years.  Classical philosophers of technology (Ellul, Mumford, Heidegger; et al.) thought that technology “…must not be thought of as applied natural science, that is less an instrument than a form of life, and that it must be understood as a “system” (in Ellul’s word) or as a “megamachine” (Mumford)” (Achterhuis, 3).  Ellul uses the French word technique specifically due to the narrower connotation of technology with machines.  For Ellul, “technique is the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity” (xxv).

Newer philosophers of technology (Noble, Hughes, Scwartz and Thompson; et. Al.) have pointed out the intertwining of technology and society as “technosociety,” “technoculture,” “network of technological affairs,” and as a “social process that is extraordinarily inaccessible to us because we are so much a part of it” (Achterhuis, 6-7).

Pacey points out in Meaning in Technology that technology has both social and individual meanings.  He also points to the difference between the “political economy” of the use and development of technology and its wider role in society and, the “social construction” of technology through a “variety of “actors” responding to a complex of social pressures” (4).  Pacey’s point about the shift from the “political economy” of technology to its “social construction” is similar to the shift from the early focus on the material and historical conditions for the rise of Technology as a system to the more recent focus on technologies that impact society while being influenced by the same society.  Pacey’s book is an attempt to redirect some of the focus back onto the meaning of technology created by the individual’s experience of technology, not just of society’s experience.

Sources Cited

Achterhuis, Hans, ed. American Philosophy of Technology: The Empirical Turn. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2001.

Ellul, Jacques. The Technological Society. New York: Vintage Books, 1964.

Feenberg, Andrew. “Can Technology Incorporate Values? Marcuse’s Answer to the Question of the Age.” Paper presented at the conference on The Legacy of Herbert Marcuse, University of California, Berkeley, November 7, 1998.

Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. online, 1999.

Pacey, Arnold. Meaning in Technology. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.

“Technology.” Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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.



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.

Iowa Library Association Conference

Tomorrow morning we head halfway across the state for the ILA conference in Coralville, next to Iowa City. We are looking forward to it for assorted reasons, but a little networking is near the top of my list. What is at the top, though, for both of us, is checking out Iowa City. We got a ton of great suggestions from three friends. Thanks E, Mikki and Julia.

I am writing this on an iPad that I have checked out from the Briar Cliff University Bishop Mueller Library. Yep, my library has loaned me an iPad for the conference. See Sara’s post for more info on the BCU Library iPad loan program:

In penance for missing my poetry class I have to do 2x the work for this week. Thankfully it is almost done though, and I got a start (barely) for next week’s.

We found out Greg Brown is playing in a benefit concert in Iowa City Friday night so we decided to stay an extra night. Woohoo. This will give us more time to see Iowa City on Sat. AM also. And thankfully Iowa is playing in Michigan this weekend so no football traffic/crowds to deal with.

So far writing this blog post in the WordPress app is pretty straightforward, except I cannot figure out how to make a link. That is why that URL sits sadly naked and exposed above. I can certainly state that I would not want to write a normal blog post in this app but for shorter ones with little or no linking it works OK.

I have no plans to get an iPad any time soon, for assorted reasons, but perhaps I’ll have more to say about the experience of using the iPad in general, and also for conferencing. I am leaving the laptop at home. I am taking my Touch in case I need a backup for some reason and since my music is on it.

COinS. Screw ’em!


I’m just giving up. There will be no more in my posts; at least for the citations I include.

I’m tired of all the work I have to do to get the citations out of Zotero as HTML, open the source of the generated web page, copy the div with the COinS, paste it into HTML view in WordPress, and then still freaking pray that it works.

I guess I’ll leave the supposed COinS generator plugin that I have that generates COinS for the blog posts themselves activated. Sometimes it fails too.  I had some back and forth with tech support a long while ago and it “failed” for stupid reasons back then. Seems it is still failing for asinine reasons. Really, anyone want to tell me what the offending character is in this post title? The Profession’s Models of Information – some comments

Not only are the COinS for the two citations I used missing but so is the one for the post itself.

This post has all of the COinS displaying that it should, one for the post and four for the four books.

Other recent posts (since I started blogging again in Aug) have varying degrees of what they should as far as the COinS are concerned.

If anyone besides me was actually making use of the COinS I was embedding then I sincerely apologize. The work involved to only get screwed over repeatedly is simply not worth it.

It may be “the future(tm)” but our tools still suck!

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


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).


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.


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.


“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).


“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.

Enjoy Every Sandwich – a short grump

Zevon, W. (2004). ‘Enjoy Every Sandwich‘: the Songs of Warren Zevon. New York, NY: Artemis Records,

Several weeks ago, for some reason I can’t remember due to Jackson Browne and David Lindley playing some Warren Zevon songs at the concert, I played some Zevon for Sara. As she started asking me about him we consulted Wikipedia and I came across the above CD.

I checked the Sioux City Public Library catalog and they did not hold it, but checking Iowa SILO I found it was available in the state so I requested it via the ILL form at SCPL.

Finally a couple of days ago I got a notice that it was in and today I picked it up. Turns out they just went ahead and bought it. This is the 2nd item I ordered via ILL that they bought for me. OK, really for their collection, but because I requested it. The other was Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget.

So, mad props to Sioux City Public Library for taking care of patrons. They rock!

My little grump is due to the fact that upon checking it out I was informed I only get it for one week instead of the usual three weeks. It seems it already has a fair few holds against it … so I get a restricted loan period.

Um, it wouldn’t even be available if I hadn’t requested it. It’s not like this is a new CD or something; it’s from 2004.

Anyway, no big deal really. I don’t need it for longer than a week. And, again, SCPL is rocking my ‘info needs’ so far. At least the ones I pass their way.

By the way, on first listen I pretty much agree with the All Music Guide review which you can read at the WorldCat page from the link above. But, so what? I’d rather having a loving tribute to Zevon than no tribute at all!

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.