2 articles by Archie Dick

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

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

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

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

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

The sections of this paper are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sections of this article seem to be:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

User studies, information science, and communication – article commentary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reasons are provided for the affinity between the groups.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Information Literacy as a Sociotechnical Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outline of article:

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

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

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

[33] Kapitzke, Cushla. (see below)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended.

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

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

A Grand Unified Theory of Librarianship. Seriously?

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


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

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

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

His initial sentences in the section CLASSIFICATION just bother me:

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

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

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

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

Also in the section on CLASSIFICATION, McGrath states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Keeping up … with people

The What

Wednesday afternoon I posted the following to my facebook status:

I have recently instituted a personal goal of trying to catch up with at least 1 interesting person a week (or so) just to see what’s rockin’ their (LIS) world, whether there are any areas of overlapping interest, if we can challenge/cheer each other on in our research endeavors, etc. To do this I am asking people to lunch or coffee … so please don’t get freaky if I ask you. If not interested just say No thanks. 😀

Not a perfect message, I agree, but facebook stati do have a character limit and I had hit it. The primary problem with it is that “interesting” word. It means pretty much anything and, thus, nothing. So it is a somewhat lazy but mostly space constrained shorthand for a lot more; including a lot more that I can’t even articulate yet.

The Context

Sometime last week I decided to ask a friend and once fellow student to lunch or coffee to catch up with her. We had taken a couple of classes together and we are both off doing our own CAS stuff now. I do get to see her now and again at the reference desk but if one can imagine how busy the reference desk at the main UIUC Library is then you can imagine that short amounts of small talk is all we can manage.

The classes we had together were all “upper-level” information organization classes and some of the projects she’s been involved in have been in areas like faceted classifications of folktales.

But she’s a reference librarian by bent. And desire. [That is, if I remember correctly from some of those disparate and short snatches of conversation at the reference desk.]

Of course reference librarians can be interested in the geeky, often esoteric intricacies of thesauri, faceted classification systems, indexing, and so on. I wish more were. 😉 But, in my own admittedly weak experience [10 12 years now], I have found few reference librarians, much less LIS students, who are interested in these sorts of things to any true depth.

So I wanted to take some quality time to catch up and see where she is in her studies, where she’s heading with her CAS project/paper, and all that stuff in the facebook message above. We were supposed to go to lunch this past Tuesday but she woke up ill so we rescheduled for next week.

Wednesday afternoon I thought of one of our Ph.D. students who I have met in person only once or so but we now follow each other on Twitter and facebook and I find her and what little I know of her work intriguing. So I invited her to lunch or coffee.

That’s when I realized I was onto something and posted the above status to facebook.

1st Lunch Date

We met at Bombay (Indian food) for the buffet and talk. She was already excited because she thinks my idea is a great one. We had a leisurely lunch and talked about my CAS paper and research, about the Library Student Journal, and about her coursework (last semester of) and teaching. We discussed Integrationism, language and communication, Symbolic Interactionism, Erving Goffman, differences between teaching undergrads and LIS students, and several other things. I’d say it was a success; not that I have any specific measures of success in mind.

Feedback in facebook

I got some good feedback shortly after posting the above status, such as several Likes, and a question or two. I found it extremely interesting that the 1st person to Like my status is the next person in my queue. Another Ph.D. student, she has taken some courses in GSLIS but is primarily in Rhetoric and Writing Studies [again, if remembering correctly]. I am going to wait a bit before trying to schedule this one as I still need to catch up with the original person I asked before I thought of this as a more sustained “program.”

One comment I received was whether I was paying or not. I am happy to do so in every case but will leave it up to the other whether we go Dutch or I pay. This is not a request for people to ask me to lunch so I will pay. I intend to still go to lunch with friends and such as I sometimes do. But if you are one of my closest friends here then, well, sorry but you don’t meet my criteria for this. I see you and talk to you anyway; I already have a good idea what you are up to. 😀

Purpose, Goals

What am I up to? Do I have a purpose or goals for this. Well, yes, and no. It is a work in progress and I am leaving it wide open and flexible.

First, it is and can be a form of professional development. Normally we talk about keeping up with the literature but isn’t keeping up with fellow professionals also professional development? Especially if one is interacting directly with them, yes?

Second, it is networking.

But even more important to me, it is a way to develop better friendships and deeper acquaintances. It is about broadening my horizons. It will expose me to ongoing work and the interests of others in a relaxed environment. Overlapping areas of interest can be discerned and expanded. Efforts to support and challenge/cheer each other on in our separate research endeavors can be drawn up and implemented.  We can clue each other into conferences, journals, books, people, ideas, and so on that might be of interest and value to each other. And there are, no doubt, other benefits that I will discover.

And, yes, one of my primary goals is to be of equal value to my dates for whatever purposes they have in accepting.

The Future

I have another couple of individuals in mind (one mentioned above, and another GSLIS Ph.D. student) but no one in particular after that. But during our discussions yesterday I realized that there are several newer faculty in GSLIS who I do not know at all. So perhaps that is where I’ll start. There are also several 0% faculty appointments in GSLIS with folks from Communications and other departments; they’d be good candidates.

After that I don’t know. I wish I knew more students and faculty in other departments here at UIUC. At ISU I knew people from all across campus. I have been here at UIUC about the same amount of time I was there but there I was an undergrad and an at-large grad student so I took classes all over. As much as I wanted to wander into other departments here I kept focused on my own department and my LIS education.

Certainly there are plenty of librarians I could get to know better here. And I should.


I’m not sure what will become of this but I intend to enjoy the company of some interesting people, learn more about the diversity of work and interests within our profession/discipline and in other disciplines.

If anyone has suggestions I am certainly happy to entertain them. If you are here and read my blog but we don’t really know each other and you’d like to change that then feel free to contact me.

Might this idea work for you? Only you can decide that. But I think that on a campus where everyone is busy and many come and go so quickly (Yes, 2-6 years is quickly) this may be a good corrective to that feeling of “I sure wish I could get to know so-and-so” or of “Boy, their research is really interesting; I wish I knew more about it” or any similar wistful desires.

If anyone else implements something similar I’d love to hear about how it is going/went, either here or directly via email, etc. Myself, I have no specific plans to blog about these dates. That will be on a case-by-case basis and only after I have cleared any such blog mentions with the affected party.

So, who have you had coffee with lately?

Is someone trying to tell me something?

Twice in the last week I have been disappeared from assorted campus directories.

Recently the Library debuted a new website for staff, including a new personnel directory. The personnel directory is available in 3 versions (that I noticed): Faculty by name, Staff by name, and by Department. I was in the old directory. I have been Visiting Faculty since Aug. 2008. Just completely disappeared from the new one.

This morning I discovered that I was no longer in the GSLIS directory. Not as a CAS student, which I still am. Nor, period. Now keep in mind this directory includes alums. Disappeared completely from it, I did.

No doubt these are coincidences. But I’m beginning to wonder.

If you want me gone UIUC then just have the cojones to tell me it’s time to go.

ASIST 2009 in Vancouver

In Vancouver, BC for ASIST 2009 Annual Meeting: Thriving on Diversity: Information Opportunities in a Pluralistic World.

Today is the 20th SIG-CR (Classification Research) Workshop: Bridging Worlds, Connecting People: Classification Transcending Boundaries.

1st session, which I’m in now, is titled: Crossing Cultural Boundaries: Indigenous Knowledge Organization. Moderator: Hope Olson. Papers are: Language, Text and Knowledge Organization: One Native American Story by Cheryl Metoyer; and, Martin Nataka’s “Indigenous Standpoint”: Toward a Theoretical Location for Indigenous Knowledge Organization by Ann Doyle. [These are not listed on the website. See link above for SIG-CR for titles of other papers below.]

2nd session will be Crossing Disciplinary Boundaries. Moderator: Barbara Kwasnik. Papers by Szostak & Gnoli, Ali Shiri, and Xiaoli Huang.

3rd session will be Crossing the Boundaries of Convention. Moderator: Corinne Jorgensen. Papers by Amelia Abreu, Kwan Yi, and Gabel and Smiraglia.

4th session will be Crossing System/Searcher Boundaries. Moderator: Dagobert Soergel. Papers by Marianne Lykke-Nielsen, Jens-Erik Mai, and Joseph Tennis.

Seems the paper by Timothy Patrick will not be presented.

There are also a handful of posters, including one by UIUC’s Ingbert FLoyd, Thomas Dousa and Michael Twidale.

Looking forward to seeing a bit of Vancouver and seeing colleagues again. I have already seen 3 of my 4 co-panelists from last year. In fact, they are here at SIG-CR.

When we head home we will be taking the train from Seattle over to Chicago, and then another to Champaign. I am really looking forward to that bit of the trip, too.

How not to train someone is Slavic or Cyrillic cataloging

Please consider this a sort of thought experiment. And, please, I beg you, do not do this to any one!

Need to either train or assist someone in training themselves to do Slavic/Cyrillic cataloging?


  • dump, without warning, a cataloger of Western European languages into Slavic/Cyrillic cataloging.
  • give them, willy-nilly, a complete mixture, randomly assorted, of Slavic languages to catalog.
  • give them absolutely no training.
  • provide absolutely no feedback.
  • give them pre-revolutionary materials so they have additional characters to consider.
  • give them materials that need original cataloging.
  • give them materials by authors with no authority records.
  • expect the work to be done quickly.
  • give them translations; especially those from one Slavic language to another.
  • forget that the issue is “simply” language and script but that a host of other rules and other knowledge is required.

Now all of these things are not of the same importance, nor do they all need sequenced at the same time. If you are going to provide some honest and quality training and feedback then many of them recede to be of much less importance.

But if you are just going to dump this sort of cataloging on someone and you expect quality results then you had best pay attention to the above list and give them plenty of time to learn on their own. And, if you do dump this kind of work on someone then, except in the rarest of circumstance, you are not qualified to be a supervisor of catalogers.

And here my little thought experiment ends.

habitually probing generalist

Change of blog name

I have changed the name of my blog. Again. This time it should not break any of the Internet nor should you need to change feeds; I hope.

3 years ago tomorrow I moved my blog to WordPress and renamed it Off the Mark. This was after a few years of blogging at Typepad under the name …the thought are broken…. I had put out a call for suggestions and for slightly different reasons both Walt Crawford and Richard Urban recommended Off the Mark. For those and other reasons I liked it. But over time various (possible) connotations have been bugging me. I was certainly aware of them then but I dismissed them, at least in my own mind.

A few months after renaming my blog I read an article for a class and my tagline was born. That tagline is now being promoted to the name of my blog. Henceforth, this space is to be known as habitually probing generalist.

I feel that that far better represents me and how I’d like to be known. For now, Off the Mark will be my tagline.

In the interest of disclosure, I feel that the primary reason for this change is that which I stated above—Off the Mark carries certain negative connotations which I no longer am willing to ignore and habitually probing generalist better represents the external face I want to present. Secondarily, though, I cannot deny that the phrase “off the mark” is heavily represented and used on the Internet. There is a greeting card company with that name (I have enjoyed giving a card or 3 to others from that company; check them out) and at least another blog or two, besides being a common phrase in its own right. “Habitually probing generalist” appears to be only used by me and a few others who have referenced my tagline. Thus, I am laying claim to it. Carole Palmer deserves a boatload of credit for it but I alone am responsible for this specific formulation.

Working toward this change I made myself a new favicon about 2 weeks ago. No longer is my favicon barely distinguishable pink flowers but is a blue background with a whitish “hpg” in it. I still need to do a little code editing so the fonts are switched for the name and tagline on the blog but that can wait. A looming physical move takes precedence.

With my blogging output over the last year a few of you might well ask “What is the point of a name change for a moribund blog?” Sadly, that is a valid question. I cannot make any promises but ….

CAS project

Friday I met with my academic advisor, Dean John Unsworth, about my CAS paper, for the first time in about 11 months. The gist of what we discussed is that things are settling down in my life (as much as possible for someone with a temporary job) and that I am ready, and looking forward, to beginning on the job of writing and defending this paper.

First, I must get physically moved across town and somewhat unpacked but then I should be able to devote far more time to it than I was willing to over the last year. The love of my life and I will live together and there will be no more of that whose apartment are we going to?, are you/am I spending the night?, blah blah. Perhaps more importantly, I will have research time once my 2nd year Visiting Professor appointment starts 16 August. This should make a major difference in my mental ability to focus on the task at hand. Also, S will be majorly busy and working many hours in September and October so I hope to use some of that time to get back in the flow of reading and writing towards a directed end.

My time over the last year has by no stretch been a waste! I have read far more broadly in a vast array of disciplines, topics and genres, which has better prepared me to think about and critique the actual use of language and communication. I was on a panel at ASIS&T last year where I spoke about Integrationism in regards to tagging. I also attended the 1st Ethics of Information Organization conference this May.

I now have an idea for a draft proposal for a presentation at the 2nd Ethics conference next year. This also forms a small but core portion of my critique of the uses of the concepts of language and communication in LIS. Thus, working towards fleshing this out will be a big help in a key premise of my argument. I might also be able to then expand on it or shift it a bit to present at ASIS&T or the SIG-CR preconference next year in 2010.

I also have an idea for a way to have interested parties work with me to compile a “listing” of theories of language and communication used in LIS and citations of works that explicitly use them, well or not. On this head, though, I am first doing a bit of research to seed the list and to determine what might be the best tool to use for a (small, I assume) group to manage it while making it publicly available. Stay tuned.

… and this means what for the blog?

Well, I hope that I will blogging much of what I get up to. I will need to reread many things and refresh my memory of what they say. Summarizing these for the blog is a possibility, as is comparing and contrasting ideas. Bouncing ideas and/or draft paragraphs/sections of my paper or my conference presentation ideas off of my readers are distinct possibilities, too.

No promises. But. I hope that I can claim that—for the near future, at least—I am back.

Sing a song with a friend
Change the shape that I’m in,
And get back in the game,
And start playin’ again

John Prine. Clay Pigeons.