of the American Society for Information Science and Technology    Vol. 29 No. 1     October / November 2002

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Meeting Review

Emerging Frameworks and Methods: The Fourth International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science

by Jens-Erik Mai

The fourth conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science (CoLIS) was held at The Information School of the University of Washington, July 21-25, 2002.

CoLIS conferences explore and analyze library and information science as a discipline and as a field of research from historical, theoretical and empirical perspectives. The CoLIS conferences are unique because they are not organized by professional or scientific organizations, but by people from various universities with interests in the theoretical foundation of library and information science, and they are organized as cooperative international ventures. ASIST was a co-sponsor.

The CoLIS 4 theme was "Emerging Frameworks and Methods," and the focus was on the (re)definition of the field in light of the history, the expansion and the theoretical foundations of the field. Library and information science is closely associated with a variety of other disciplines, and its practice employs technologies that are changing rapidly. It is of utmost importance, therefore, to develop a solid basis of conceptual frameworks and methods in this area.

Recent developments have accentuated contemporary conceptions of the library and information field as an intersection of information, technology, people and society. These emerging conceptions draw attention to the ongoing need for discourse about the character and definition of key concepts in library and information science.

CoLIS 4 included more than two dozen sessions and workshops and much time for discussion!

The doctoral forum was an opportunity for doctoral students to present and discuss their research projects with senior researchers and in return receive constructive feedback. The session was organized by Pia Borlund, Royal School of Library and Information Science, Denmark.

The Tutorials

Four tutorials represented a wide range of interests. In the "History of Information Science," Michael Buckland, University of California at Berkeley, covered the historical development of information science, concentrating from the late 19th century to date. Stephen Robertson, Microsoft Research Cambridge, UK, talked about the "Evaluation of Information Retrieval Systems" and explored the history and legacy of this field.

In "The Concept of Information," Ian Cornelius, University College Dublin, Ireland, attended to the threads that have contributed to continuity in theories of information and examined the patch-like coverage of instrumentalist theories in particular areas of LIS. Lastly, Rob Kling, Indiana University, talked about "Social Informatics for the Library and Information Sciences" and introduced some of the concepts and theories of social informatics, as well as some key research findings.

Keynote and Other Sessions

The keynote address was given by Tom Wilson, University of Sheffield, UK, who talked about "Philosophical Foundations and Relevance: Issues for Information Research" and explored the theoretical foundation of the field and suggested that phenomenology could serve as the basic foundation for the field.

The 18 papers were divided into three main tracks: Information Interaction, Informetric Approaches and Information Retrieval. Each presenter was given 30 minutes to present the paper, followed by 15 minutes for discussion. That provided enough time for substantial discussions and an atmosphere that promoted reflection and thoughtfulness.

Two panel discussions were held during the conference. Glynn Harmon, University of Texas at Austin, moderated a discussion on "The Information Schools: Impact of Name Change" which centered on the potential danger of ending up with schools that focus on the information technology aspects of the field at the expense of the library aspects of the field because IT related research attracts more research funding than library-oriented research. The other panel discussion, moderated Victor Rosenberg, University of Michigan, "The Dark Side of Information Technology," focused on inherent ideologies of information technology and to what extent information technology shapes the field and society at large.

The first of two post-conference workshops was organized by Ron Day, Wayne State University, and was on the "Philosophical, Historical, Rhetorical and other Conceptual Approaches to Library and Information Studies." The workshop assembled scholars who work with conceptual approaches, and they exchanged perspectives with the hope to turn what has been a plurality of individual attempts and works into a more collective dialogue. The other workshop, organized by Sanda Erdelez, University of Missouri; Karen Fisher-Pettigrew, University of Washington; and Diane Sonnewald, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was "Theory Development in Information User Studies." It featured discussion of such  questions as "What is the significance of user study theories and conceptual frameworks in user studies for ongoing research and practice in library and information science?," "In other disciplines?" and "What may be a future agenda for theory development in user studies?"

The Fourth International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science was a very successful conference that drew almost 200 participants from all continents to Seattle for a week of discussions and collaboration on setting the future for research and development in library and information science.

The fifth conference on the Conceptions of Library and Information Science will be held in summer of 2005 at the University of Strathclyde, Scotland, in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences.

Jens-Erik Mai is assistant professor, The Information School, University of Washington; e-mail: jemai@u.washington.edu

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