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Blaise Cronin

What is the most cited work in ARIST's history? I confess I had no idea until two of our doctoral students, Peter Hook and Weimao Ke, decided to crunch the numbers: roughly 60,000 references from 400 chapters covering forty years. Vannevar Bush's 1945 Atlantic Monthly piece, "As We May Think," came first, albeit with a fairly modest twenty-two citations, just pipping Dervin and Nilan's 1986 ARIST review at the post. Should Peter and Weimao rerun their study a year hence, Bush will almost certainly have consolidated his lead. Not only do we have a chapter by Ronald Houston and Glynn Harmon devoted exclusively to the many interpretations and enduring influence of his seminal paper over the course of the last six decades, but several other chapters—notably those by Colin Burke and William Jones—also make generous mention of the Bush/Memex legacy. Within the literature of information science—and not just between the covers of ARIST—Bush's article is indubitably a citation classic. But his footprint extends more widely: A recent editorial in the Communications of the ACM (Crawford, 2006, p. 5) introducing a special section on Personal Information Management, co-edited by the aforementioned Mr. Jones as it happens, acknowledged "Bush's inspirational vision."

This year's volume opens with three historically inclined chapters, a good way of reminding ourselves that information science is a field with a solid pedigree and, for those who take the trouble to familiarize themselves with the canonical literature, a clear sense of its own intellectual roots and identity, virtues that really should not be sacrificed to capricious latitudinarianism. Here, if I may be permitted an aside, it is hard not to think of the so-called I-schools movement and its discursive contortions (Cronin, 2005). As an antidote to the occasionally overblown rhetoric of the new that swirls around us, I recommend Bernd Frohmann's (2004) aptly titled Deflating Information, one of the most cogently argued books to have come out of our field in recent years. But back to matters historical: Burke, although a professional historian, does not here attempt to provide the history, or even an history, of information science—the original title of his chapter, "The Emergence of the History of Information Science as a Field of Study, 1994–2004: An Overview of the Literature and Comments and Cautions," clearly delineates his ambitions—but the appetite is whetted. Just as it is with Stephen Bensman's chapter on the impact factor (IF), a citation-based indicator that is loved and reviled in near equal measure by journal editors and authors alike. Bensman, who also, incidentally, trained as an historian, provides an historico-biographical account of the IF, viewed through the prism of Eugene Garfield's picaresque life. This is certainly not a conventional ARIST chapter, but it is a novel, exegetical approach, one which, inter alia, allows us to reacquaint ourselves with the "the Sage"—J. D. Bernal (see Brown, 2006)—a polymath, whose formative thinking on scientific information and scholarly communication probably deserves wider recognition. A more technical chapter by Bensman dealing with the validity and utility of the impact factor is planned for the next volume of ARIST. The remaining twelve chapters of this year's volume are forward-looking and, taken together, demonstrate rather convincingly that information science has neither lost its early vitality nor resorted, in its maturity, to excessive navel gazing. Some of the topics I have selected for coverage (e.g., digital libraries, Arabic information retrieval [IR], and universal access by, respectively, David Bearman, Ibrahim Abu El-Khair, and Harmeet Sawhney and Krishna Jaykar) may be par for the ARIST course, but they are none the less valuable for that: The national security implications of research in Arabic IR, for instance, hardly need stating, and the pace of developments in digital libraries—a procrustean label, to be sure—is such that regular updates are required, an observation that could be applied equally well to policy and empirical research addressing access issues such as the digital divide.

Other chapters, in particular those by Christina Courtright, Jeppe Nicolaisen, Soo Young Rieh and David Danielson, and Diane Sonnenwald, approach familiar topics from an original, or revised, angle: context in the case of information seeking; signaling in the case of citation behavior; credibility in the case of information systems use; factors and stages in the case of scientific collaboration. In each instance, the authors enrich our theoretical understanding of complex information practices and phenomena, adding incrementally to the field's knowledge base. One could quite easily add to this list the chapters by Birger Hjørland ("Semantics and Knowledge Organization") and Catherine Legg ("Ontologies on the Semantic Web"), both of which deal with axial concerns of information science, namely, meaning and representation. Thanks to the development of the Web, the practical significance of these abstract issues has become much more widely appreciated of late by scholars of all stripes and, indeed, by sections of the general public. One of the Grand Challenges facing computer scientists, information scientists, and artificial intelligence researchers is to create the Semantic Web, which will provide metadata on the semantics, not just the syntax, of Web resources. Thus, to use Legg's example, if you want to know something about Turkey, you won't be fobbed off with information on the feathered variety.

One of the fastest-growing and potentially most important fields of contemporary research in academia—one that straddles many academic disciplines and fields, from biology and physics to sociology, epidemiology, and information science—is network science (e.g., Barabási, 2003), profiled here by Katy Börner (electrical engineering), Soma Sanyal (physics), and Alessandro Vespignani (physics). Together they review a diversity of approaches to analyzing the self-organizing properties of biological, transport, social, and other networks. There is much that will be new to ARIST readers in this chapter, both conceptually and methodologically, but also not a little that will be familiar: bibliometrics and co-citation mapping are, after all, established techniques for revealing socio-cognitive networks and have been staples of the information science research literature for many years.

Volume 41 concludes with a chapter by Greg Downey, a geographer with a strong interest in the history of science and technology and author of the engaging Telegraph Messenger Boys (Downey, 2002). He makes the case that current thinking in human geography, especially notions of process, context, and relationality, should be of interest to the information science research community. Downey introduces us to "the geographical turn"—shades of the "cognitive turn" in information retrieval research (Ingwersen & Järvelin, 2005)—in the social sciences and humanities and reacquaints ARIST readers with concepts such as the space of flows and the social shaping of space. Downey is not the first, nor will he be the last, geographer to appear between the covers of ARIST; there are assuredly potential intellectual synergies between (classical) information science and (postmodern) human geography (e.g., Raper et al., Dykes, Wood, Mountain, Krause, & Rhind, 2002; Turner & Davenport, 2005). But, of course, the same could be said of information science and several other disciplines, a fact that is beginning to be recognized by scholars both within and outside our particular intellectual community, I am pleased to note.


Barabási, A.-L. (2003). Linked: How everything is connected to everything else and what it means for business, science, and everyday life. New York: Plume.

Brown, A. (2006). J. D. Bernal: The sage of science. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Crawford, D. (2006). Editorial pointers. Communications of the ACM, 49(1), 5.

Cronin, B. (2005). An I-dentity crisis? The information schools movement. International Journal of Information Management, 25, 363–365.

Downey, G. (2002). Telegraph messenger boys: Labor, technology, and geography, 1850-1950. New York: Routledge.

Frohmann, B. (2004). Deflating information: From science studies to documentation. Toronto: Toronto University Press.

Ingwersen, P., & Järvelin, K. (2005). The turn: Integration of information seeking and retrieval in context. Dordrecht, NL: Springer.

Raper, J., Dykes, J., Wood, J., Mountain, D., Krause, A., & Rhind, D. (2002). A framework for evaluating geographical information. Journal of Information Science, 28, 39–50.

Turner, P., & Davenport, E. (Eds.). (2005). Spaces, spatiality and technology. Dordrecht, NL: Springer.