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Blaise Cronin

Volume 43 introduces a number of new topics and revisits some familiar territory. The Web 2.0 world of social tagging and folksonomies is opened up for the first time in these pages by a first-time ARIST author, Jane Hunter, who provides a judicious assessment of the challenges and promise of collaborative classification. Karine Barzilai-Nahon, another first-timer, critically deconstructs the concept of gatekeeping, a perennial in the literature of information science. Her contribution is particularly noteworthy for turning the spotlight on the oft overlooked "gated," without whom, it need hardly be said, the much vaunted gatekeeper would be at something of a loose end.

Peter Willett is no stranger to ARIST, having co-authored a chapter on chemical structure processing in 1989. His comprehensive review of similarity methods in chemoinformatics (note the shift in nomenclature) shows how techniques for handling chemical information and data have evolved over the course of the last twenty years, propelled in no small measure by advances in machine learning and data mining. Chemical informatics is today a recognized sub-field within academia, straddling informatics, chemistry, and information science. Another emergent sub-field is geographical information science, its ramified literature reviewed here authoritatively for the first time by Jonathan Raper. Willett read Chemistry at Oxford, Raper Geography at Cambridge, so perhaps it is not altogether surprising that they should have been in the vanguard of chemical information science and geographic information science; no less significant from the perspective of future historians of information science is the fact that they hold chairs in the U.K.'s leading information science/information studies programs, at the University of Sheffield and City University (London), respectively. The developments they describe show that information science contributes productively to both theory and practice in cognate fields, while also ingesting ideas and techniques from outside—a growing trend that has been described recently in some detail (Cronin & Meho, 2008).

Changes in our field's nomenclature are nothing new. The Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology began life as American Documentation. Having said that, the U.K.'s leading publication, Journal of Documentation, has persisted with its original title despite changes in ownership and prevailing fashions. In the past few years, there has been a mini-renaissance of interest in documentation as evidenced by the series of conferences organized by the Document Academy, a "loosely coupled international network of scholars, artists, and professionals, in various fields, interested in the exploration of the document as a useful approach, concept and tool, in Sciences, Arts, Business and Society, in general" (see Whether we are witnessing a "document turn" in the wake of the cognitive and other such "turns" is debatable (Cronin, in press) but it is nonetheless refreshing to see Anglo-American scholars such as Michael Buckland and Ron Day, along with a hearty band of European and Nordic colleagues, going back to first principles and to the foundational writings of some of the field's pioneers, notably, Paul Otlet and Suzanne Briet. In the present volume, Niels Winfeld Lund raises the deceptively simple question, "What is a document?" The answer, naturally, depends on whether one is focusing primarily on the physical form and characteristics of a document, on the textual and semantic nature of a document, or on the social function and significance of a document. The ontological toing and froing is sure to continue.

In addition to traditional documents (and document collections), information specialists now routinely develop and manage a host of digital media, including structurally complex Web sites. What principles can be applied from traditional classification theory to facilitate the organization of multimedia information products and spaces? How can Web sites best be designed to ensure easy and effective use? And what exactly is meant by "information scent"? These are a few of questions addressed by Elin Jacob and Aaron Loehrlein in their chapter on information architecture, a term that has recently gained traction both within and outside the information science field, as evidenced by the creation of special interest groups, conferences, and certified courses.

Ontological problems of another kind are the focus of Neil Smalheiser and Vetle Torvik's chapter. The central issue can be framed thus: "Who exactly is Chen?" When there are thousands of authors with the same name, be it Chen or Smith, bibliographic confusion is assured. This is a real problem for information retrieval and Web searching, where incomplete or potentially ambiguous information can result in decreased retrieval performance and misattribution (on sloppy citation in general see, for example, Lee, Kang, Mitra, Giles, & On, 2007). The issue may seem trivial, but if your name is Chen and some of your citational credit is going to another Chen, then it quickly becomes a personal, nontrivial matter. The scale and intractability of the author name disambiguation problem are explicated here for the first time, along with a variety of techniques for reducing ambiguity.

I recall a conversation with Don Swanson in his office at the University of Chicago in the early eighties in which he described the possible link between Raynaud's disease and fish oil, though I confess that at the time I didn't grasp the potential significance of his work on logically related but not interconnecting data sets (e.g., Swanson, 1986); others—including Neil Smalheiser mentioned earlier—did. Twenty years on and there is a considerable body of research on what has come to be known as literature-based discovery (LBD), much of which has centered on the medical literature. Ronald Kostoff has published extensively on the subject of literature-related discovery (LRD), which includes LBD and also literature-assisted discovery (LAD), and here, with a (for ARIST) record-breaking number of co-authors (two of whom are medical doctors), he provides a forthright review of the subject, one that in draft form elicited uncommonly sharp reactions from our reviewers.

From the very beginning, ARIST has included chapters on information use and users, although today's preferred descriptor seems to be human information behavior (HIB). A great deal has been written on the subject of information seeking over the years, as Karen Fisher and Heidi Julien's bibliographic review makes clear, but there is a regrettable lack of cumulation and coherence. Models, frameworks and proto-theories are sourced from near and far (see Fisher, Erdelez, & McKechnie's [2005] compendium) but the whole is considerably less than the sum of the parts. Fisher and Julien may not concur with my assessment. They do, however, acknowledge that researchers in this busy sub-field seem to be talking earnestly to themselves; there are very few citations to the HIB literature from scholars outside information science which raises questions about the credibility of the sub-field.

Alesia Zuccala also reviews some of the information seeking literature as a prelude to exploring the implications of Open Access (OA) for lay persons. The OA movement, previously reviewed in ARIST by Carl Drott (2006), is as an initiative—and here I am oversimplifying—launched by and for the scientific community, the aim of which is to remove all barriers to accessing and disseminating scholarly information. But it also has potentially far-reaching social and economic entailments. Zuccala considers the implications of open access for non-experts, basing her analysis of the advantages and possible drawbacks on relevant research in the fields of both the public understanding of science and also science communication. This is a subject on which more needs to be said, and one that we shall likely revisit in the not too distant future.

As ARIST goes to press, so too does a Special Issue of the Journal of Information Science (34[4], 2008), edited by Adrian Dale and Alan Gilchrist, to celebrate what would have been the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Institute of Information Scientists in the U.K. This 250-page review of developments in information science includes chapters by many authors who have graced the pages of ARIST. I commend it to you, not least because it provides additional confirmation that our field remains keenly aware of its intellectual roots and alert to emerging trends in the wider information sphere.


Cronin, B. (in press). The sociological turn in information science. Journal of Information Science, 34(4).

Cronin, B., & Meho, L. I. (2008). The shifting balance of intellectual trade in information studies. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 59(5), 551–564.

Drott, M. C. (2006). Open access. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 40, 79–109.

Fisher, K. E., Erdelez, S., & McKechnie, E. F. (Eds.). (2005). Theories of information behavior. Medford, NJ: Information Today.

Lee, D., Kang, J., Mitra, P., Giles, C. L., & On, B.-W. (2007). Are your citations clean? Communications of the ACM, 50(12), 33–38.

Swanson, D. R. (1989). Online search for logically-related noninteractive medical literatures: A systematic trial-and-error strategy. Journal of the Association for Information Science, 40(5), 356–358.