A bibliometric* study by Milojević, Sugimoto, Yan, and Ding (2011) that examines the “cognitive structure” of library and information science (LIS) contains exciting news for the information behavior (IB) community. Their analysis of the terms used in the titles of articles in LIS journals over the past 20 years reveals that information behavior is establishing itself as a 4th major branch of LIS (see it illustrated). A similar conclusion was reached by Åström (2007) and Järvelin and Vakkari (1990), but the recent research is more sweeping and current. Many of us have intuited this development already and the strength of SIG-USE within ASIS&T is just one parallel indicator; still, it is great to have empirical evidence.
The paper offers additional insights into the publication patterns of IB scholarship. Interestingly, our work is distributed across the major academic journals, unlike other main branches of LIS whose research is concentrated in sources devoted to library science or information science. Further, our enterprise exhibits an “internal multidisciplinarity” that transcends the technological nexus of LIS to a “larger scope that can be described as processes, phenomena, and institutions that bring people, technology and written records together”(p. 1951). Bravo!
While information behavior research is experiencing a “surge” these developments are called “tentative” (p. 1950). When a slightly different analysis technique is applied to the data, IB disappears into the library science branch of LIS. Therefore, we cannot consider our ascendant status to be secure or permanent. Another matter (not addressed by the authors) is that concepts such as “information practice” and “information use” do not yet register as popular terms in the data, perhaps due to their relative novelty or an ongoing lack of consensus.
This study raises questions to ponder at the ASIS&T annual meeting in New Orleans next week during the workshop, SIG-USE business meeting (Monday, October 11, 11:30-12:30), and via informal conversations with each other. Is it time for a dedicated IB journal to concentrate and better organize our scholarship, as proposed by Michael Olsson at the 2010 SIG-USE business meeting? Should we seek greater consensus around nascent terms and concepts? What can SIG-USE and each of us do individually to help fortify our research area?
*A note to doctoral students of information behavior: Go bibliometric! I heartily encourage you to digest studies such as the one at hand or the classic co-citation analysis of information science by White & McCain (1998). (Reading the latter was a “eureka” moment during my own doctoral studies, when I came to understand the organization and purpose of information science.) Bibliometric research designs target literatures; are unabashedly quantitative and positivistic; and contrast sharply with more qualitative approaches prevalent in the information behavior realm. I can imagine that some SIG-USErs have an allergic reaction to research of this kind. But here are three reasons to embrace bibliometrics: 1.) It is the only original research method generated by LIS and should be a point of fluency and pride for all; 2.) Bibliometric studies provide a high-level view of the LIS landscape to more strategically locate your own research amidst various concepts, specialities, scholars, and journals; 3.) Anyone championing an holistic approach to IB can employ bibliometrics to establish the backdrop, that is, the literature, where information behavior unfolds (therefore bibliometrics is a natural complement to information behavior studies). Newcomers to bibliometrics who are attending the ASIS&T annual meeting in New Orleans may benefit from the panel Bibliometrics and LIS Education: How Do They Fit Together? (featuring Dangzhi Zhao, Howard White, Dietmar Wolfram, Jamshid Beheshti, Judit Bar-Ilan, and Jonathan Levitt on Tuesday, October 11 at 10:30).
Åström, F. (2007). Changes in the LIS research front: Time-sliced co-citation analysis of LIS journal articles, 1990–2004. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 58(7), 947–957.
Jarvelin, K. & Vakkari, P. (1990). Content analysis of research articles in library and information science. Library and Information Science Research, 12, 395-421.
Milojević, S., Sugimoto, C.R., Yan, E., & Ding, Y. (2011). The cognitive structure of library and information science: Analysis of article title words. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 62(10), 1933-1953.
White, H. D. & McCain, K. W. (1998). Visualizing a discipline: An author co-citation analysis of information science, 1972-1995. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 49(4), 327-355.
Jenna Hartel, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto