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Introduction to Volume 39

Blaise Cronin

ARIST is going the way of so many things American: supersizing. Truth be told, the beefiness of this year's volume is more a matter of chance than design: good news for subscribers, not such good news for our publisher. Last year I described some of the challenges associated with editing an annual review and the near impossibility of knowing with certitude what the end product will look like. A great deal can happen in the almost two years that constitute the gestation period of the typical ARIST chapter. Life has a knack of cocking a snoot at contracts, deadlines, and good intentions, and even when the Fates are smiling there is the occasional disappointment: parturiunt montes nascitur ridiculus mus. More often than not, though, the mountains labor to magisterial effect and the mice are few and far between. But, ultimately, it is for you, dear reader, to dispense and withhold the encomia. I will, however, say this: Volume 39 has something for just about everyone. The topic range is wide, almost indecently so—a seductive perquisite of editorship. Each year one adds new ingredients and experiments cautiously with the overall form of the volume, safe in the knowledge that readers and reviewers alike will not be slow to provide constructive feedback. With volume 39 we inaugurate a cumulative index to ARIST, beginning with volume 1 in 1966, available online at

This year we have 14 chapters grouped into five sections: Information Retrieval; Technology and Systems; Social Informatics; National Intelligence; Theory. We begin with reviews of recent research on information retrieval (IR), a staple of ARIST over the years, in both controlled document collections and Web environments. These chapters explore new approaches—statistical language modeling and fusion techniques, respectively—to problems old and new. They are written by a doyen of the field (Bruce Croft) and two relative neophytes (Xiaoyong Liu and Kiduk Yang) continuing an ARIST tradition of showcasing both established and lesser known names. The third chapter in the opening section is by Mike Thelwall and colleagues. Although not strictly speaking an IR chapter, it is as comfortable in this section as it is likely to be in any other. Aficionados of classical information science will know that it is 35 years since Alan Pritchard (1969) coined the term "bibliometrics"; today, with rapid advances in hyperlinking, new measures of association and intellectual interaction are emerging, hence the proliferation of neologisms such as "webometrics." But longstanding issues of validity and reliability remain, whether the links being counted are citational or hyper in character. An important role for ARIST is thus to ensure that we do not develop an ahistorical mindset or overlook the contributions of information science's pioneers as we scamper to embrace the new. But I shall have more to say on this subject next year in the introduction to what will be the fortieth volume of ARIST.

Section II, "Technology and Systems," provides a snapshot of developments in three rather different areas of research and practice. The chapter by Bin Zhu and Hsinschun Chen on information visualization methods, techniques, and applications follows closely on the heels of the review by Börner, Chen, and Boyack (2002). But this is a fast moving and important domain—witness the recent launch of the journal Information Visualization (—and research findings have potentially wide practical relevance across many scientific fields and disciplines, not least bioinformatics, the topic of Gerald Benoît's chapter. The term "informatics" (coined in 1968 by A. I. Mikhailov, as best I can tell) has emerged from relative East European seclusion to become one of the most widely used programmatic descriptors in existence; a quick search on Google generated more than 2.5 million hits. Colleges, schools, and departments of informatics, having erupted like acne across the face of higher education in the U.S. and farther afield, can incorporate everything from hydro, to medical, to quantum informatics. As the routine computational demands of scientific (and other) disciplines intensify—think of genomics or astrophysics—a new hybrid species is required, individuals who combine domain knowledge with advanced information technology capability. One is reminded of the over-used adage, a picture is worth a thousand words. Faced with petabytes of data, scientists are struggling to extract meaning and significance, and this has turbocharged research in information visualization, data mining, and related areas, as the chapters by Zhu and Chen and Benoît make abundantly clear.

"As ye sow, so shall ye reap." The tools for data generation, capture, and analysis may be in place, or in the process of being developed, but that is not the end of the story. What are we to do with the mass of information in circulation? How are data and evidence to be recorded and preserved? What, in fact, is an electronic record—the question posed here by Anne Gilliland-Swetland? These issues extend well beyond the world of big science and infrastructural computing to include, for example, humanistic scholarship, archival management, and routine business practice. And it is not just a matter of building bigger and better mousetraps; the creation and stewardship of electronic records raises many at times complex public policy and legal issues, as Gilliland-Swetland tells us.

"Social informatics" is a truly protean label, one about which I remain ambivalent. I could equally well have used the heading "Socio-Technical Systems Design and Analysis," which would effectively signify the common orientation of the three chapters contributing to this section, but I have gone instead with "informatics" in memory of my late colleague Rob Kling, whose championing of the term, dogged efforts to institutionalize the embryonic field, and decades-long, intellectual contributions to the research literature on the social dimensions of computing meant so much to so many. Rob established the Center for Social Informatics at Indiana University well before the "informatics" label had achieved fashionable status. Incidentally, his last ARIST chapter was published posthumously in volume 38.

Systems are designed for use by people. But people belong to different cultures, broadly and variously understood. What, asks Ewa Callahan, should interaction designers know about culture so that they can build culturally sensitive and effective interfaces? In some respects this is an almost intractable problem, albeit less in terms of artifactual design or engineering considerations than the fundamental issue of defining what culture actually means. Her chapter nonetheless raises a number of substantive topics and areas in need of systematic research, but rightly eschews definitive answers.

We use digital technologies and online fora for a variety of reasons, ranging from straightforward information seeking to looking for social and emotional support in chat rooms and other online settings. Caroline Haythornthwaite and Christine Hagar provide some insights into the social dimensions of Web use and the ways in which we move between the virtual and physical worlds. As Sproull and Patterson (2004, p. 34) note: "Participation in electronic communities often begins with a search for information. Rarely does anyone wake up in the morning and say, 'I think I'll join an electronic community today.' But the results of a search for information often lead individuals to them. Today millions of people worldwide participate in hundreds of thousands of voluntary electronic discussion groups and communities." The world of the Web is now part of our everyday world. Further insights into patterns of use of the Web, this time specifically by children and teens, are provided by Andrew Large, although his primary focus is instrumental usage in educational contexts. For more detailed information and benchmark data on trends in Web and Internet use in general, I recommend the Pew Internet and American Life Project ( and also the UCLA Internet Report (

I am writing this Introduction a matter of days after the March 11th terrorist bombings in Madrid, and although national intelligence has become a topic of great personal interest to all of us for obvious reasons, that is not the motivation for including it in the present volume. As both Lee Strickland and I (here exercising editorial droit de seigneur, as it were) point out, there are longstanding ties between the worlds of intelligence and information science, both intellectually and professionally. That is why I first introduced the topic to ARIST in the shape of Philip Davis's (2002) chapter on intelligence and information warfare, and why I expect to include further contributions on the subject in the years ahead. By way of an aside, two of this year's contributors, Lee Strickland and Herbert Snyder, have intelligence backgrounds, as does at least one of our advisory board members, Glynn Harmon. Again, this will hardly come as a surprise to historians of Anglo-American information science; our professional and academic ranks include some who, for example, served with the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) in the U.S. or with the code breakers at Bletchley Park in the U.K.

A recent issue of the journal Social Epistemology was devoted to the topic of intellectual capital. Arnaldo Bagnasco's (2003, p. 359) article in that compilation opened as follows: "I could say the same thing about social capital that St. Augustine of Hippo said about time: I know exactly what it is, but if I start thinking about it I don't know any more." One knows the feeling only too well. The lead chapter in the Theory section is by Elisabeth Davenport and Herbert Snyder, no strangers to ARIST. They don't cite St. Augustine on time nor Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart on pornography (the "I know it when I see it" approach); instead they dissect many of the claims and assumptions embedded in the sprawling literature on the subject of social capital, a construct popularized by Robert Putnam (2000) in his best-seller, Bowling Alone, and assess its potential utility in an age of networked organizations.

Julian Warner attempts something that I don't think has been tried previously in the pages of ARIST: the application of Marx's claims about physical labor to information systems and intellectual labor. He analyzes concepts of syntactic and semantic labor that have been both implicit and to some extent explicit in information theory. It is not unreasonable to surmise that Warner's interest in Marxist thinking (which can be found elsewhere in his writings) may have been sparked or reinforced by Terry Eagleton, the noted critical theorist and author of the hugely successful Literary Theory (1983), with whom he studied at the University of Oxford. I mention this biographical bagatelle because it provides a nice segue to the final chapter of the volume, written by Ron Day on the subject of post-structuralism, one of the major paradigms of twentieth century literary theory. I am more than ready to concede that Dead Germans and sesquipedalian Frenchmen may not be everyone's cup of tea, least of all regular ARIST readers, but Ron Day's chapter raises fundamentally important questions about the limits of traditional theorizing in the domains of library and information science. Moreover, and this will surely appeal to those of an historical bent, he invokes Jesse Shera (1970), who recognized early on the need for the field to explore general problems of knowledge and information.

We know that ARIST is rarely read cover to cover; it is a resource to be dipped into selectively and at leisure. It may well be that those who devour Yang's account of Web-based IR will ignore the light of Day, and those who tarry with Warner's exegesis on information labor will bypass Benoît's bioinformatics chapter. But the seriously open-minded reader will discover many obvious and not-so-obvious intertextualities across these 14 chapters. Devotees of ARIST will also find that not a few of the issues raised in the present volume have been foreshadowed in earlier volumes, even if the resonances are at times understated or unacknowledged. I am certainly not suggesting that there is nothing new under the sun, it's just that we—whether as readers or authors—being so consumed with the immediate and the emerging, sometimes fail to see the threads that wind back over the years and through the cumulating pages of ARIST.


Bagnasco, A. (2003). Social capital in changing capitalism. Social Epistemology, 17(4), 359380.

Bîrner, K., Chen, C., & Boyack, K. (2002). Visualizing knowledge domains. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 37, 179255.

Davis, P. H. J. (2002). Intelligence, information technology, and information warfare. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 36, 313352.

Eagleton, T. (1983). Literary theory: An introduction. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Pritchard, A. (1969). Statistical bibliography or bibliometrics? Journal of Documentation, 25(4), 348349.

Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Shera, J. (1970). Sociological foundations of librarianship. New York: Asia Publishing House.

Sproull, L., & Patterson, J. F. (2004). Making information cities livable. Communications of the ACM, 47(2), 3337.