These are some notes for the readings from my first Seminar class. It’s really just a test to see if my BibTeX/Jekyll/Pandoc integration is working. More about that in a future post hopefully…

(Shera, 1933) was written in the depths of the Great Depression … and it shows. There is a great deal of concern about fiscal waste in libraries and a strong push for centralization, in line with FDR’s New Deal. The paper sees increasing cultural homogenization and a blurring of the rural and the urban that hasn’t seemed to come to pass. His thoughts about the television apparatus at the elbow seems almost memex like in its vision of the future. I must admit given all of what he gets wrong, I really like his idea of looking at the current state of our social situation and relations for the seeds of what tomorrow might look like. But at the same time I have trouble understanding how else you could meaningfully try to predict future trends. There is a tension between his desire for centralization of control, while allowing for decentralization, that seems quintessentially American.

(Taylor, 1962) muses about the nature of questions, how they progress in an almost Freudian way from the unconscious to a fully sublimated formal question of an information system. One thing that is particularly interesting is his formulation about how questions themselves are only fully understood in the context of an accepted answer. It’s almost as if the causal chain of question/answer is inverted, with the question being determined by the answer, and time running backwards. I know this is a flight of fancy on my part, but it seemed like a quirky and fun interpretation. The paper is deeply ironic because it opens up new vistas of future information science research by asking a lot of questions about questions. The method is admittedly rhetorical, and the paper is largely a philosophical meditation on how people with questions fit into information systems, rather than a methodological qualitative or quantitative study of some kind. It makes me wonder about the information system his questions are aimed at. Is scientific inquiry an information system? Also, perhaps this is heretical, but is there really such a thing as an information need? Don’t we have needs/desires for particular outcomes which information can help us realize: information as tool for achieving something, not as an object that is needed? I guess this could be considered a pragmatist critique of a particular strand of information science. I guess this would be a good place to invoke Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

(Borko, 1968) attempts to define what information since in the wake of the American Documentation Institute changed its name to the American Society for Information Science. He explicitly calls out Robert Taylor’s definition, who was instrumental in helping create the Internet at DARPA.

He summarizes information science as the interdisciplinary study of information behavior. It’s kind of strange to think of information behaving independent of humans isn’t it? Are we really studying the behavior of people as reflected in their information artifacts, or is the behavior of information really something that happens independent of people? This question makes me think of Object Oriented Ontology a bit. A key part of his definition is the feedback loop where the traditional library and archive professions apply the theories of information science, which in turn are informed by practice. This relationship between theory and practice is a significant dimension to his definition. It seems like perhaps today many of the disciplines he identified have been subsumed into computer science departments? But it seems information science has a way of tying different disciplines together that were previously siloed?

(Bush, 1945) is a classic in the field of computing, cited mostly for its prescience in anticipating the hyperlink, and the World Wide Web. He is quite gifted at connecting scientific innovation with tools that are graspable by humans. One disquieting thing is the degree to which women, or as he calls them, “girls” are made part of the machinery of computation. To what extent are people unwittingly made part of this machinery of war that Bush assembled in the form of the Manhattan Project. Who does this machinery serve? Does it inevitably serve those in power? If we fast forward to today, what machinery are we made part of, by the transnational corporations that run our elections, and deliver us our information? Can this information system resist the forms of tyranny that it was created by? Ok, enough crazy talk for now :-)

Borko, H. (1968). Information science: What is it? American Documentation, 3–5.
Bush, V. (1945). As we may think. Atlantic. Retrieved from
Shera, J. H. (1933). Recent social trends and future library policy. Library Quarterly, 3, 339–353.
Taylor, R. S. (1962). The process of asking questions. American Documentation, 391–396.