- Doing Things with Information: Beyond Indexing and Abstracting
In this work, Brian O’Connor, professor at the School of Library and Information Sciences, University of North Texas, is joined by co-authors Jodi Kearns, archivist at the Archives of the History of American Psychology, and Richard Anderson, information security coordinator at the Computing and Information Technology Center, University of North Texas, in a significant rewriting of his 1996 work, Explorations in Indexing and Abstracting: Pointing, Virtue and Power (Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, [End Page 288] 1996). In the preface, the authors note that they originally set out to update O’Connor’s 1996 work but that they felt a need to “address some more fundamental questions” arising from critical reviews of that work as well as a need to address an audience outside the field of library and information science. (p. ix) The result, they felt, was far more than a second edition, hence the new title.
The authors have set themselves a tall task—to present new ways of thinking about and representing information (“What is it about?”) in order to bridge gaps between current practices of representation (cataloging, indexing, and abstracting) and the ways in which information seekers go about looking for information and presenting questions. Their stated goal is to find new ways to do things with information to make that information useful, that is to say, findable. They note that many of our current notions of representation are based on “the mechanics of description and that too little has been given to what ought to be represented.” (p. xi) They propose to present an explanation of these failures along with a “robust model for doing things with information.” (p. ix) The first part—delving into new ways of thinking about content representation— is very similar to the goals of the earlier Explorations in Indexing and Abstracting; therefore, much of the content of the earlier work is repeated.
The book is divided into 10 chapters and begins with background concepts and models. Chapters two and three contain an extended discussion of representation and the different perspectives that can be taken when determining what something is about. The authors’ points about document structure, the effects of time, and variability of language are all well taken. They are careful to remind us that an nformation seeker’s perspective has significant impact on how that person tries to find new information and that this should be taken into account in building a representation. Subsequent chapters present exercises as a way to demonstrate the challenges posed by current systems and rules of representation and explain the problems of using words to represent non-word documents, primarily photographs and other still images. Browsing as an information-seeking activity is the focal point of chapter six.
The content of chapter seven was most controversial in reviews of the original work. The authors have expanded in this chapter on their theory that computerbased indexing, through an elementary word extraction program, can easily discover useful representations of word-based documents that can be used to supplement those found by more traditional methods. The authors follow this discussion by returning to the challenges of representation of non-word documents, still- and moving-images, and present “functional applications of the measurement of information” for such documents by reporting on three research studies: measuring effective representation of video programs with children, measuring structural distraction in PowerPoint documents, and modeling a binary system of structure and meaning in film. (p. 170) The individual complexity of these three studies results in a chapter that is too long and confusing.
The authors conclude with a presentation of their model of functional ontology construction, building on the work presented earlier in the book in combination with theoretical work on human information-seeking behavior. The model is clearly laid out, and some of the discussion of its theoretical basis is interesting; but the chapter ends somewhat abruptly, leaving the reader wondering how to move [End Page 289...