What kind of science can information science be?

Michael Buckland
2011 Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology  
During the twentieth century there was a strong desire to develop an Information Science from librarianship, bibliography, and documentation and in 1968 the American Documentation Institute changed its name to American Society for Information Science. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, however, departments of (library and) information science had turned instead towards the social sciences. These programs address a variety of important topics, but they have been less successful in
more » ... iding a coherent explanation of the nature and scope of the field. Progress can be made towards a coherent, unified view of the roles of archives, libraries, museums, online information services, and related organizations if they are treated as information-providing services. But such an approach seems significantly incomplete on ordinary understandings of the providing of information. Instead of asking what Information Science is or what we might wish it to become, we ask instead what kind of field it can be given our assumptions about it. We approach the question by examining some key words: science, information, knowledge and interdisciplinary. We conclude that if information science is concerned with what people know, then it is a form of cultural engagement and, at most, a science of the artificial. INFORMATION The word "information" has been used so much that it has come to dominate discourse (Day, 2001). One information school website recently contained two striking statements: "161 exabytes of new information are created each year" (They mean digital bits) and "Information: The power to transform the world" (They don't mean digital bits). Vagueness and inconsistency are advantageous for slogans and using "chameleon words" that assume differing colors in different contexts allows flexibility for readers to perceive what they wish. However, when clarity is sought more careful definitions are needed. Our first restriction is to limit our use of "information" to its traditional association with human knowing and learning. This differentiates our scope from other important fields that have also used the name "Information Science." One is Computer Science, concerned with the theory and application of algorithms. Another, concerned with entropy, probability, Shannon-Weaver information theory, physical patterns (in-form-ing), and related topics, is sometimes referred to as the "physics of information." Also, the word "information" is, of course, used in "information technology" (IT, also ICT, for Information and Communication Technologies) but largely restricted in practice to the use of electronics for communication and computation. These other areas are not considered here. Instead, we are concerned with those areas generally understood as being within the scope of "library and information science" (LIS) and the interests of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. For a wider and more detailed analysis by Machlup and Mansfield of numerous fields with some interest in information see Study (1983). Jonathan Furner has wisely reminded us that for each of the multiple meanings of the word "information" there is already another satisfactory more specific word (Furner 2004) . Information studies does not require use of the word "information"! Another move is to sort the varied uses of the word "information" into categories, including: -Information-as-knowledge for knowledge imparted, what was learned as a result of being informed; -Information-as-process for becoming informed, for learning; and -Information-as-thing for bits, bytes, books, sounds, images, and anything physical perceived as signifying. The word "document," which was not, historically, limited to textual media, can be used as a technical term for information-as-thing (Buckland 1991a (Buckland , b, 1997.
doi:10.1002/asi.21656 fatcat:s4jasufojbgu3nnlic62goenlu