Bates, M. (1999). The invisible substrate of information science. Journal of the Society for Information Science, 50(12):1043–1050.

Of all the introductions to information science we’ve read so far I’m quite partial to this one. It does have a few moments of “just drink the kool aid already”, but the general thrust is to help familiarize the growing number of people working with information about the field of information science. So it’s purpose is largely educational not theoretical. Bates wrote this in 1999, and I think there is still a real need to broaden the conversation about what the purpose of information science is today, although perhaps we know it more in the context of human-computer-interaction. I also suspect this article helped define the field for those who were already working in the middle of this highly inter-disciplinary space and trying to find their way.

The reason why it appealed to me so much is because it speaks to the particularly strange way information science permeates, but is not contained by other disciplines. Information science is distinguished by the way its practitioners:

… are always looking for the red thread of information in the social texture of people’s lives. When we study people, we do so with the purpose of understanding information creation, seeking, and use. We do not just study people in general. (Bates, 1999, p. 1048)

Her definitions are centered on people and these weird artifacts they create bearing information, which are only noticed with a particular kind of attention, which you learn when you study information science. I was reminded a bit of (Star, 1999), written in the same year. I can hear echoes of STS in Bates’ exhortation to follow “the red thread” of information–which reminds me of Bruno Latour more than it does Woodward and Bernstein.

References

Bates, M. (1999). The invisible substrate of information science. Journal of the Society for Information Science, 50(12), 1043–1050.

Star, S. L. (1999). The ethnography of infrastructure. American Behavioral Scientist, 43(3), 377–391.