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Cool reading! Worth thinking. I’ll publish an extended comment over it.

Tom Wilson’s article makes a time travel covering 1959 – 2009 information research dividing it in 4 periods:  1) The prehistoric Era, 2) 1959 -1979, 3) 1980 to the Present and 4) Into the Future.

It sounds a bit like history, doesn’t it? So it is.

The first question we would need to answer looking at this periodization would be: why is 1959 the watershed that drives away the Prehistoric Era? Wilson’s view does not comply with a technological reductionism. Although technology is certainly a driver of research, the historical roots of Information Research are prior to the technological push (it would be hasty though tempting to make the analogy between writing/technology).

So, in the pre-historic era there were two main drivers for information research: public support and funding for libraries (community) ; World War II (science and the information explosion); The community pull and the science pull. This historical hermeneutics gives us a quite enlarged view of the roots and by the same token an enlarged view of the possibilities.

1959 was the year of the International Conference on Scientific Information:  user studies and academic librarianship became core areas of research. Information research is often understood by Wilson as Information behaviour Research. Is this an abusive synonymy or maybe, a political one (in the sense of discoursive power)? This second period of information research was the era of quantitative and  large scale studies. Wilson refers to INFROSS (INFormation Requirements Of the Social Sciences) which began in 1967 and was published in 1971 and INISS (Information Needs and Uses in Social Services Departments)  that took place between 1975 and  1980 and implemented a original mix-method combining quantitative and qualitative data. At this point Wilson becomes an actor of this history. His experience with INISS and writing the report  A Week in the Life of a Social Services Department, led him to propose that qualitative methods should be adopted in research into what he proposed should be called “information seeking behavior.

From 1980 to the present, Wilson argues, typifying the main trends of the field is more difficult. There is no statistical evidence that information behaviour is now the dominant theme in information research but the success of ISIC doctoral workshops and SIG/USE attendances are qualitative indicators of this trend. Another feature of research in the field for the past 20 years is a common concern to establish theoretical and conceptual frameworks for the subject. Qualitative methods have became the norm through in-depth investigations of small samples of people. On the other hand  large-scale survey data have declined and “as a result, there is little evidence of the impact of research on either policy or practice.” Finally technology (ITC) became an important driver of research, namely with increasing internet related investigation.

In the future, says Wilson “technological developments of one kind or another will continue to drive research”, but the previous enlarged view of the roots of the field opens up research areas beyond technology, mainly related to economy. Wilson points out to the Digital divide and  “The impact of “information lack” on the disadvantaged in society and, particularly, its economic effects will become of interest to researchers.” and to the phenomenon of Economic migration : “Exploring how the migrant discovers how to make his/her way in the world with and without access to information resources is a significant potential research area.” He concludes that research will need to return to large-scale projects ” that can guide government and business action in relation to the deployment of information and communication technologies.” He notices that a decline of academic research may follow from a tendency for governments to outsource this work to indepndent consultancy groups. So the good news maybe that contrary to the Ends‘ post-modernist discourse, no end is seen by Tom Wilson (a key figure of this field) to the need of research, though the nature and context of information may change:

I see no end to the need to explore, partly for theoretical reasons, but increasingly for policy reasons, how people discover, access, use, store for future use, share and disseminate information of all kinds.”