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Introduction to Volume 37

Blaise Cronin

The eleven chapters that make up this volume of the Annual Review of Information Science and Technology cover topics old and new, and do so in ways, and from perspectives, that are sometimes new.

The relationship between language and representation is central to both the theoretical and applied bases of information science, and, of course, it is a subject that has been treated in these pages previously. The three chapters in Section I, Language and Representation–all written by well-known information scientists–help to remind us of the long-standing links between linguistics, epistemology, and information science. David Blair's contribution, Information Retrieval and the Philosophy of Language, is distinctive by virtue of its detailed examination of the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein and the implications for research in information retrieval (IR). Had the author had his way, I would surely have written "the life and work of Ludwig Wittgenstein" in the preceding sentence, but space constraints prevented us from including some of the fascinating biographical information about the twentieth century's most celebrated philosopher which the original draft of his chapter contained. In fairness, then, let me recommend a short and charming book that weaves the lives of Wittgenstein and Karl Popper around the celebrated poker incident, which occurred at the October 1946 meeting of the Moral Science Club at the University of Cambridge (Edmonds & Eidinow, 2001). Now, you may be asking yourself, is that poker as in "card game" or poker as in ?

Words, how we use them, what we mean by them, and what others make of them, are the stuff of information retrieval. If words were, well, just words, we wouldn't have the problem of false drops, and translating Seamus Heaney's poetry into Urdu wouldn't be such a difficult task. In a perfect world–one free of false drops–Representative Dick Armey's Web page wouldn't be mistaken for a pornographic site and a voluptuous Rubens nude wouldn't be blocked by image recognition software designed to protect children from explicit sexual representations. These are not simply abstruse technicalities, but issues that can have an impact on public policy, as evidenced by the debate swirling around the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA). Unfortunately, if understandably, most retrieval and filtering software packages are differentially constrained when it comes to semantic analysis, and that poses enormous challenges for, among others, researchers working in the area of cross-language information retrieval, machine translation, and artificial intelligence, as Gobindra Chowdhury describes in his chapter, Natural Language Processing.

Indexing was difficult enough when information scientists were dealing with bounded collections, but with the advent of the Internet and World Wide Web, the universe of indexable materials has mushroomed unmanageably. Even the best Web search engines pick up only a fraction of available content–content, moreover, which is dynamically changing. The Web is rather different from, say, the INSPEC database or the contents of your local public library; we typically comprehend the dimensions of the latter two, but not of the former, which creates difficulty when it comes to evaluating retrieval performance. This, as Edie Rasmussen suggests, means that we may need to look beyond classical measures of recall and precision when dealing with Web-based information resources.

The two chapters in Section II, Dynamics of Scholarly Communication, feature a quintet of authors new to ARIST. Although the subject matter may not be altogether new, the approach in each case is rather different from yore. My colleagues Rob Kling and Ewa Callahan provide a much-needed and highly-nuanced dissection of the concept of "the electronic journal" in their chapter, Electronic Journals, the Internet, and Scholarly Communication. Their socio-technical analysis of the scholarly publishing ecosystem should provide a road map for other researchers, and, at the very least, lead to greater clarity of thought and expression in the discourse of electronic communication. Communication is an inherently social phenomenon–the ways in which scholars interact is not merely a function of available toolsets, but reflects the material practices and prevailing norms of their disciplines. In short, no single electronic publishing system is likely to work for, and be adopted in equal measure by, all disciplinary tribes.

Information visualization is a topic which should be familiar to ARIST readers, but the chapter by Katy Börner, Chaomei Chen, and Kevin Boyack, Visualizing Knowledge Domains, comes with a novel twist or two. Their contribution is a combination of (a) the traditional literature review, (b) a tutorial–the reader is introduced to the strengths and limitations of a range of information visualization tools by having them applied to the subject matter of the chapter, domain visualization–and (c) original research: the authors have created a task-specific database with which to illustrate their key points. Since ARIST (for now, at any rate) cannot accommodate color art work, and since space is limited, the authors have graciously provided a Web-based repository of data and color images to support the printed text ( If a picture is worth a thousand words, this hybrid chapter must surely amount to the longest in ARIST history.

Last year's ARIST included a chapter on health informatics and this year, in Section III: Information Systems, we turn the spotlight on two very different but equally intriguing domains, rich in informatics-related developments; museums and music. The chapter by Paul Marty, Boyd Rayward, and Michael Twidale picks up the socio-technical, or, if you prefer, social informatics, theme developed by Kling and Callahan. Museums are rewarding sites in which to observe how social practices and information technology are, to use the terminology of the moment, mutually constitutive. The authors raise a number of important issues relating to the nature and mission of the museum in the digital age, as they examine the organizational, behavioral, and pedagogic implications of interactive media for the world of museums, and also explore the kinds of relationships which exist–and will exist–between museums, both physical and virtual, and their diverse user populations.

Music information retrieval is a fast-growing, multidisciplinary research field, one that exhibits early signs of institutionalization, as Stephen Downie documents in his crisply-written chapter on the subject. Retrieving music (whether a Wagnerian leitmotif, the words of a Beatles song, or the opening bars of a lullaby) poses a host of technical challenges; challenges which seem set to occupy information scientists, musicologists, and computer scientists–not to mention, in a post-Napster era, intellectual property rights management experts–for years to come.

There are many professors, departments, and associations of information science, but little agreement as to what information is, or what the foundational elements of the putative science of information are. Thus, a chapter, or section, devoted to information theory has become a common feature of ARIST volumes. Definitions of information abound; some are enumerative and pragmatic in character—think of Harold Borko's (1968, p. 5): "the generation, collection, organization, interpretation, storage, retrieval, dissemination, transformation, and use of information." Others are memorably pithy—think of Gregory Bateseon's (1972, p. 453) definition of information as "a difference which makes a difference." Consensus, however, is absent. Both of these oft-quoted definitions, and many others, are critically appraised by Rafael Capurro and Birger Hjrland in their chapter, The Concept of Information, which opens with an etymological exploration of the focal term, from classical times, through the Middles Ages, to the present. With some reluctance we pruned the opening sections of this chapter, removing not a few Latin and Greek references, but what remains nonetheless constitutes a worthwhile historical overview in and of itself, not to mention a very effective entrée to the ontological and epistemological discussion which follows.

Section IV, Theorizing Information and Information Use, contains three further chapters, the first of which, Task-based Information Searching, by Pertti Vakkari, makes a strong case for foregrounding the tasks—both work-related and personal/ avocational—which give rise to information seeking behaviors and mold users' search tactics. Vakkari has crafted a well-structured critique of the sprawling information seeking literature, its dominant paradigms–from ASK (anomalous states of knowledge), through behavioral models, to the cognitive approach–and the related methodological issues.

Trust—how it is constituted and sustained—has recently emerged as a key research topic in areas such as electronic commerce, online education, and, more generally, computer-mediated communication. Whom and what can we believe on the Web? Can we trust those we interact with online, where social presence is weak and identities can be easily masked? Trust is a salient issue in information systems effectiveness, but it has not been treated heretofore in the pages of ARIST. The chapter by Stephen Marsh and Mark Dibben, The Role of Trust in Information Science and Technology, combines a theoretical analysis of trust– drawing, in particular, on literature from philosophy, psychology, sociology, and management–with a critical assessment of the place of trust in information systems design and development. More concretely, the authors attempt to show why and how trust, a multi-faceted construct, can be embedded in a variety of information systems. Undoubtedly, this is a topic that we shall revisit in the not too distant future, as—to take but one example—research in embodied conversational agents moves rapidly ahead.

The concluding chapter in Volume 37, Information and Equity, by Leah Lievrouw and Sharon Farb, is a timely effort to conceptualize notions of information equality and information equity. The authors resist the easy ideological posturing, which metaphors such as the digital divide can sometimes invite, to examine what we mean by equity. They draw upon the writings of, among others, Amartya Sen and John Rawls, to move beyond the polarizing rhetoric of "information rich" and "information poor," arguing convincingly that equity—informational or otherwise—is not synonymous with quantitatively equal distribution of resources for the very good reason that no two individuals may need, or choose to use, a particular parcel of information resources in the same way.

In the concluding sentence of last year's introduction I said that the 2003 volume would include several new topics and a number of first-time contributors to ARIST. We have managed to deliver on that promise, and I am confident that we shall be able do so again with respect to Volume 38.


Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an ecology of mind. New York: Ballantine Books.

Borko, H. (1968). Information science: What is it? American Documentation, 3, 5.

Edmonds, D. & Eidinow, J. (2001). Wittgenstein's poker: The story of a ten-minute argument between two great philosophers. London: Faber & Faber.