book picture

Introduction to Volume 38

Blaise Cronin

Despite the best-laid plans of mice and men, ARIST never quite turns out as initially conceived. That is not necessarily a bad thing. In the eighteen or so months that elapse from our initial contact with potential contributors to your reading the just-published volume, much will have changed—not, of course, that you will notice, unless you happen to have been monitoring the ARIST Web page (http://www.asis.org/Publications/ARIST/index.html) to track shifts in announced content. We may begin with a clear sense of the shape and scope of the volume, fairly quickly identify some key authors (along with a bench of substitutes), and even receive formal letters of acceptance from our first choices; but for all the usual reasons, what is promised and what is expected is not always what is delivered. In the case of a scholarly journal with a backlog of publishable papers, this kind of last minute shortfall can usually be accommodated (and I write as a sometime journal editor); not so with ARIST. As you may know, ARIST invites contributions for each annual volume; it does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. When, as sometimes happens, we are informed by an author a week before the due date that not a word of the promised chapter has been written, we are, not to put too fine a point on it, up a gum tree. In anticipation of such an eventuality we tend to commission more chapters than we actually want or need, secure in the knowledge that some will not materialize (this year we had a record four "no-shows"). Contingency planning of this kind is all very well, but it means that the end product sometimes differs markedly from the original blueprint. And it is also the case that, as authors embark on their planned chapters, the work sometimes moves in quite unexpected directions, occasionally resulting in a wholesale topic change.

This is merely a roundabout way of saying that, to some degree, we have become accustomed to crafting ARIST on the fly. It is also a fact of life that in many instances the draft chapters we receive are very different indeed from the considerably more polished versions you eventually read. The typical ARIST chapter undergoes major reworking before it sees the light of day, both in terms of content and structure, based on feedback from three reviewers and also the editor and associate editor. The revised chapters are then read and massaged intensively by the editors (this entails considerable interaction with the authors) before being copy-edited by both in-house and outside editorial staff. It is a simple statement of fact—neither parochial bombast nor self-congratulation—to say that the review and editorial activities add considerable value to the original manuscripts; in some cases the final product bears little or no resemblance, stylistically or substantively, with the original submission, as our archival files will testify. This rendition of particulars in some senses foreshadows points Rob Kling makes in his chapter on scholarly publishing, in this volume. I hasten to add, this is not to say that ARIST chapters are flawless in any or all senses; far from it. But they are the results of an extended and painstaking midwifery process, and it is this investment of collective effort, as much as anything else, that contributes to ARIST's continuing credibility in the field.

I have grouped the twelve chapters that make up volume 38 into three broad sections: theory, technology, and policy. That is not to suggest that technology is developed in a theoretical vacuum, that policy does not shape (and is not in turn shaped by) technological developments, or that social theory does not, or cannot, inform public policy. Far from it, as a reading of the chapters by Rob Kling, Yvonne Rogers, and Nancy Van House, in particular, will soon make clear. This grouping is for reader convenience and is, I concede, somewhat arbitrary. For example, Susan Dumais's lucid exposition of Latent Semantic Analysis could, conceivably, be classified under theory. If, for instance, you are interested in current developments (theoretical and applied) in accessing and retrieving information, the quintet of chapters in the technology section will give you a rich sense of the challenges faced by the information retrieval research community, ranging from data mining and knowledge discovery in medical databases (Peter Bath) through Web mining (Hsinchun Chen and Michael Chau) and digital image retrieval (Alan Smeaton) to the evaluation of search engine performance (Judit Bar-Ilan). On re-reading this section I was struck by the fact that all the authors commented on the lack of consistency in definitions. These chapters should provide a useful roadmap for navigating the thicket of terminological confusion and inexactitude that characterizes so much of the relevant literature. You may also note that there is some content echo across these chapters, but we have taken a conscious editorial decision to retain this overlap. A little redundancy can go a long way, communicatively speaking.

Editors, like parents, are not supposed to have a favorite child, but the reality is that one is always wondering which of one's textual progeny may become the next ARIST citation classic. If I had to wager, I'd put money on Nancy Van House's dexterous dissection and elucidation of the sprawling literature of science and technology studies, a domain from which our own field, information science, has at once tentatively and belatedly begun to source models, frameworks, and insights. Truth be told, I'd also place a bet on Yvonne Rogers, whose systematic critique of the eclectic theory base of human-computer interaction will likely be of interest to a wide audience, both inside and outside traditional information science. The third chapter in the theory section, by David Ellis and colleagues, is also important because it addresses persistent and pervasive confusion in the literature relating to notions of community, and the (mis)appropriation of concepts of community by some of those conducting research into online networks, electronic fora, and virtual communities. Once again, the criticality of conceptual clarity and definitional consistency is underscored.

In the realm of information policy, punditry and advocacy co-exist with the results of empirical research. Much has been written (and spoken) about the role and potential contributions of ICTs (information and communication technologies) to political life, but as Alice Robbin and her co-authors make clear, much of that has more in common with hot air than cold logic. This contribution is valuable not only for its filleting of a large literature corpus, but for its elegant explication of different notions of democracy; the introduction sections of this chapter are a useful mini tutorial in civics. Free speech is an important component of democratic order, and the chapter by Alexandre López Burell and Charles Oppenheim demonstrates the legal complexity of notions of free speech in the context of the Internet and World Wide Web. Once more, we find that terminological imprecision and ambiguity are rife, although here the situation is compounded by issues of vicarious liability and transjurisdictional incompatibilities. Fuzzy terminology is also an issue addressed by Patricia Galloway in her review of digital preservation, as she walks us through the differences between emulation, serial conversion, and migration, before introducing us to notions of integrity and preservation metadata standards. Rob Kling might object to having his chapter branded as a policy contribution, but I have placed it here because his examination of heterogeneous publishing practices, norms, and policies may, in fact, help shape emergent practices in the scholarly communication ecosystem. Kling's point of departure is the semantic confusion that surrounds the seemingly simple term "preprint," from which unfolds an analysis that takes issue with some of the popular assumptions about current developments and desiderata in electronic publishing and posting.

Several of our contributors (e.g., Chen, Galloway, Rogers), are first-time ARIST authors, others like Kling and Robbin have graced our pages previously. Several contributors are academic researchers from fields other than information science; Chen is in management information systems, Smeaton in computer science, and Rogers in cognitive science, whereas Dumais uses her background in cognitive science with Microsoft's research group. As information science broadens its horizons (Cronin, 2002), ARIST will continue to recruit authors from both the heartland and the periphery to appropriately reflect the domain's inherently interdisciplinary character.

Reference

Cronin, B. (2002). Holding the center while prospecting at the periphery: Domain identity and coherence in North American information studies education. Education for Information, 20(10), 310.