Doing some research: getting to grips with your field of study from an ‘outsider’s perspective’.

I found that I can focus a lot better on reading when I am away from distractions...
I can focus a lot better on reading when I have no distractions.

I thought I would share some thoughts on a book that I have read this week, so that I can share my experiences in what I have learned.

So this week, I was set the task of reading a book aimed at discussing Information Science, coincidently called ‘Introduction to Information Science’ by David Bawden and Lyn Robinson (2012). My main goal was to understand how this book (and its content) relates to the project proposal which is the basis for my research, and to then explain this to my supervisor in my next supervision.

Really, this was kind of the starting point. If I wasn’t able to understand this then I might struggle with the topic, not necessarily the technical aspects, but the concept of the topic overall.

Anyway, to help me understand the book and its relation to the proposal in terms of context, my supervisor set me the task of writing a short book review which I am going to overview for you now. Challenge accepted.

So the book begins with a general introduction to what Information Science is (chapter one) and gives specific explanation to its purpose. From my reading, I now understand that it is both an academic discipline as well as professional practice. I found this a really important aspect as a PhD (or any form of research in that matter) is kind of both – a researcher needs to be able to do the research to a standard of the academic background it is designed for and contributes to, but also needs to explore the practical implications and how this can influence professional practice. In the case of my research, I hope it does both. With the support of Skills Development Scotland, it is highly important that my research involves both staff members form the team as well as being able to explore the practical implications (and recommendations) in terms of how the work can be applied to the practitioner perspective. My question is, how can a piece of research NOT be both academic and have practical implications at the same time?

Overall, Information Science is the dealing with effective collection and storage of information as well as how it can be retrieved. It is concerned with recordable information and knowledge derived from this, as well as how technologies and related services can support and facilitate the management and use of this information and knowledge. Information Science is the field that includes study of all or some of the processes involved. It can also be seen as a form of a social science, mainly due to the information practices that can be studied, and even more importantly, the people involved are normally groups of people who have some form of shared background or interests in common (this could be a group of employees, academics, library services etc.). I found that this was quite a complex thing to get my head around, I wasn’t sure which parts were important for my research and which were not. It turns out most of these aspects are important in some way as my research does hope to have emphasis on the development and management of knowledge (Knowledge Management, KM) and potentially what factors are important in facilitating workplace learning within an organisational context.

As the chapter progresses, it explains a few different views on the topic and through chapter gives some historical background on how information science has developed. This includes the development of networks / groups which are still strong today, and also the development of some of the most prestigious journals available, such as ‘Information Processing and Management’. The chapter even goes as far as explaining that even educational programmes were developed, from college level up to Master’s degree level. You will find that degrees are quite common nowadays and many universities offer Information Science related (or specific) master’s degrees and courses related to this.

Chapter three was one of my favourites and moved on quite well to chapter four which discussed some of the basic concepts within Information Science as a field of study – the philosophy behind it all!!! Well, okay I can’t say that I have a passion for philosophy or understand it all, but I did study it through my A-Levels and also through my bachelor’s degree in terms of research, so as long as I can see the applications and reasoning behind it I’m all good. Bawden and Robinson explain several approaches, perspectives and paradigms including a constructive approach and also the cognitive paradigm. More importantly for me, they discussed the Socio-Cognitive Paradigm which concerns the interaction between social and the individual, which could link in nicely with how individuals acquire knowledge and share it with others. One of the most prominent things that I took away from this chapter (and which was also mentioned in chapter fourteen, focusing on research aspects) is that the philosophy behind the research can be linked to what research questions a researcher wished to address. In some cases, the research questions may dictate (kind of!) the philosophical approach in terms of how the research will be carried out. Chapter fourteen draws upon this and explains the importance of using different research methods in gathering data, analysing evidence and using your research questions to help shape the gathering of the data to answer the questions as comprehensively as possible. A good example which came to mind is that in the case of the current proposal, looking at factors that underpin workplace learning may benefit from both a constructivist approach in that reality is constructed by individuals rather than there being one single objective reality. This could be the case (although there could be other approaches relevant that are mentioned in the book, this was just an example I thought of when reading along) as an individual might have an influence on how they learn, and how others earn around them depending on their own experiences and environment. To explore this, I could use both qualitative and quantitative methods, depend on how the research plan goes and what research questions are finally decided upon.

I then encountered a concept that I had not heard before, and from reading the rest of the chapter, I still did not understand it by the time it came to my supervision – ‘domain analysis’ (chapter five). I was not really sure what it was so my supervisor explained it better. A domain could be the overall description of all of the processes involved, so from information creation, storage, dissemination and to the communication of this information to other. The ‘domain analysis’ would be the study of parts or the whole domain in order to potentially apply this to the context that the domain is set in. So for example, if it was a system of information within an organisation, the research may study the processes involved in learning new information, the people and processes involved in this learning, and then make recommendations to things like how to improve certain parts of the ‘domain’ itself. Quite nicely, then moving onto chapter six that discussed what an information organisation was. Primarily, it focused on what could be considered an information organisation was, but then reflected my own research in explaining that the purpose of an information organisation may be to help us understand the structure of knowledge itself, and how this might be derived from the physical documents and information that the knowledge comes from.

Chapter seven had a slightly different focus and the chapters that followed helped me to determine how Information Science underpins what the research aims to do. In brief, this chapter explores the important of information technologies themselves focusing on the actual tools involved. During this chapter I slightly of questioned a specific part of the proposal. We aim to explore some of the training and skills aspects of workplace learning. Would the change in environment and context influence the learning of information (chapter ten)? What I questioned was whether the development of technologies would include the learning itself and whose responsibility would it be to keep the employees up-to-date with the technological advances discussed in chapter seven??? Moreover, would the learning of the employee be influenced by the digital literacy (chapter thirteen) of the person, in other words, can they use the information effectively regardless of what form it comes in?

Throughout reading this book, I found that chapter eight and nine were two of the most important, not only because of their content, but these might be chapters that I would need to refer back to later during my literature search. Firstly, informetrics! This is the study of the qualitative aspects of resources and information and how this information can be communicated, basically through creation and communication of the information itself. I feel that the communication of information is very important. It might be that some people have information right in front of them, but if this is not communicated effectively, how can knowledge be created form this? How can they know what the information means? Would this impact on their learning? This relates well to the information behaviour explained in chapter nine in that information behaviour is the study of human interactions with behaviour, particularly groups of people rather than individuals. It concerns the interactions of those involved, and takes information needs into consideration too – in sum, knowing what you need to know. I will not go on to explain the different theories and models the book discusses, but I can say that the aim of the models are to show factors that are involved in information behaviour, and how these can paint a picture of the different processes involved in the seeking and use of information (behavioural, process, cognitive models etc). This was kind of a win-win for me as although my research will not be looking at this directly, this can be used when exploring workplace and organisational learning and exploring important factors within the concept.

While reading chapter eleven, one thing did arise – I did not know much about Social Informatics. From this, it my supervisor advised doing some extra reading around this and also give me an article to get started. So for now, I cannot comment a lot on this but at least I know my plan for the next couple of days.

I finally got to chapter fifteen, and with a *hurrah* of ‘I’m nearly finished the book’ and being quite pleased that I thought I understood most of it, the future directions of Information Science were discussed. Realistically, the exact future cannot be predicted. Nobody truly knows how research will go, what directions it will take and how a field will develop. This is why the book is important overall, it highlights how diverse the field of Information Science is and it is not about using the whole field, but using the individual parts to highlight where the gaps are and directing your research in a way that represents and reflects the nature of the field, capturing its uniqueness all in one. The future has not yet been created and it’s up to you to make this happen.

So that’s how my learning has been this week. I purposely haven’s included lots of references form the book, mainly as they are there in the book and I would strongly recommended that anyone who is either studying, or interested in Information Science to read it. I did, and it has helped me understand the area in a way that I didn’t before and now I can see how it links with the research proposal in hand. Sharing my experiences will hopefully help others focus on their topic and gain some knowledge on the field before searching further.

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