I interrupt the previously scheduled message on “The Literature” of information behavior to draw attention to a debate unfolding in the broader realm of information science. [For new readers: my posts to the SIG-USE mailing list are written with students of information behavior foremost in mind.]
Recently Marcia J. Bates and Birger Hjørland have had an exchange in the pages of JASIS&T that continues a long-running public conversation between the two. It is exciting to witness senior scholars championing their ideas, which serve as excellent fodder for students to discuss late into the night.
Below is an introduction to the situation and then remarks on a few implications for the information behavior research community. While I am an admirer and former student of Professors Bates and Hjørland, this statement does not take sides, has been approved by both participants as accurate, and cannot substitute for careful reading of the original papers (to that end references and hyperlinks are provided).
Marcia J. Bates, professor emerita in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (USA), is the source of many breakthroughs in information science and information behavior specifically, in concepts such as information search tactics (1979) and berrypicking (1989); studies of the information behavior of humanists (1996); and as an editor and author of the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences (Bates & Maack, 2010). In her work, she seeks to illuminate information behavior in ways that integrate the biological, behavioral, and social elements of human interaction with information in he world.
Birger Hjørland, professor at the Royal School of Library and Information Science (Copenhagen, Denmark), is the architect of a socio-cognitive or domain analytic (Hjørland& Albrechtsen, 1995) perspective on information science. In this view information behavior is socially, culturally, and historically constructed (Hjørland, 2000). Hjørland’s writings of late (2011a, 2011b), as a series entitled “The Importance of Theories of Knowledge,” have sought to illuminate, critique, and strengthen the metatheoretical foundations of the field.
The debate between Bates and Hjørland is philosophical and multi-faceted. It concerns the nature of information (as objective and/or social – see Bates, 2005, 2006 and Hjørland, 2007, 2009); the role of information science metatheories (as competing or complementary devices); and the merits of two major metatheories (empirical behavioral research and socio-cognitivism/domain analysis). The most recent volley has explored these issues within the concept of browsing (see Bates, 2007, in press; Hjørland, 2011b, in press).
How is the public conversation between Bates and Hjørland relevant to the information behavior research community?
Followers of this debate are reminded of the importance of metatheory in information research and are exposed to two metatheories that may be used to orient scholarship. (The metatheories, empirical behavioral research and socio-cognitivism/domain analysis, are both influential approaches within the information behavior specialty.) And, readers are shown possible conceptions of “information” as physical, biological, social, objective, or subjective. These various renderings can deepen philosophical understanding of our central phenomenon and/or be used to operationalize a definition of information within empirical information behavior research. Further, these exchanges demonstrate how one concept – browsing – can be an epistemological and ontological hot spot, as can any information behavior notion. Finally, as observers of a public collision of minds we can refine our own communication and argumentation strategies.
Thanks to Professors Bates and Hjørland for these significant learning opportunities!
Other comments are welcome from members of the SIG-USE mailing list and beyond, especially remarks that engage these contested issues substantively (which was not the point here).
The next post, later in September, returns to the theme of “The Literature” of information behavior and features Donald Case’s textbook Looking for Information: Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior, 2nd ed.
[The reference list is in chronological (not alphabetical) order to better reflect the back-and-forth between the two authors]
Bates, M. J. (1979). Information search tactics. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 30, 205-214.
Bates, M. J. (1989). The Design of browsing and berrypicking techniques for the online search interface. Online Review, 13, 407-424.
Hjørland, B., and Albrechtsen, H. (1995). Toward a new horizon in information science: domain analysis. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 46(6), 400-425.
Bates, M. J. (1996). The Getty end-user online searching project in the humanities: Report no. 6: Overview and conclusions. College & Research Libraries, 57, 514-523.
Hjørland, B. (2000). Information seeking behaviour: What should a general theory look like?. New Review of Information Behaviour Research,1, 19–33.
Bates, M. J. (2005). Information and knowledge: An Evolutionary
framework for information Science. Information Research, 10(4)
[available at http://InformationR.net/ir/10-4/paper239.html].
Bates, M. J. (2006). Fundamental forms of information. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 57(8), 1033-1045.
Bates, M. J. (2007). What is browsing – really? A model drawing from behavioural science research. Information Research, 12(4) [Available at http://InformationR.net/ir/12-4/paper330.html].
Hjørland, B. (2007). Information: Objective or subjective/situational?. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology,58(10), 1448–1456.
Hjørland, B. (2009). The controversy over the concept of “information”: A rejoinder to Professor Bates. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 60(3), 643.
Bates, M. J. & Maack, M. N. (Eds.). (2010). Encyclopedia of library and information sciences, 3rd Ed. New York, NY: CRC Press.
Hjørland, B. (2011a). The importance of theories of knowledge: Indexing and information retrieval as an example. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 62(1), 72–77.
Hjørland, B. (2011b). The importance of theories of knowledge: Browsing as an example. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 62(3), 594-603.
Bates, M. J. (in press). Birger Hjørland's Manichean misconstruction of Marcia Bates' work. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. Currently available in early view online.
Hjørland, B. (in press). Theoretical clarity is not “Manicheanism”: A reply to Marcia Bates. Journal of Information Science. Currently available in early view online.
Jenna Hartel, Associate Professor, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto