Category: Information Society

Information in your workplace: is it working for you?

Guest post by Professor Ian Ruthven, co-editor of Information at Work: Information management in the workplace

We live in a society characterized by quick technological developments and rapid processes of change. Technological developments have automated processes that used to be done by manual labour whilst new professions and work tasks have emerged. Earlier generations were accustomed to life-long positions in the same company. Nowadays people search for work opportunities in a global market, experience more frequent career changes, must learn new skills throughout their careers and manage the increasingly fluid boundaries between work life and home life. Even our work environments have changed: as Alvin Toffler’s metaphor of the ‘paperless offices’ from 50 years ago is now being realized, we are starting to move into the state of ‘peopleless offices’ in which work is conducted in digital rather than physical spaces. Many workplaces are already now hybrid digital/physical spaces where the work activities addressed, tools utilized and information consumed are the same no matter if engaged in the office or at home.

Rapid changes to information infrastructures are also changing the nature of work forcing a reinvention of old practices and the creation of new ones. For example, bloggers and online newspapers are now as influential as traditional journalism; social media is now a key means of interacting with customers instead of direct marketing; many services such as banking, home-buying, booking travel and commerce are now primarily online activities created by experts in digital environments rather than experts in built environments; government services are increasingly online services, etc. The vast amount of Internet information means that even traditional information experts such as doctors are taking on larger roles in explaining information rather than providing information. There is hardly a discipline or area of work that is not touched by new technology.

More data, more information, more work

The relatively inexpensive information storage available now means organizations can capture massive amounts of data which can be mined to provide more robust decision-making about managing cities, predicting demographic changes, tailoring marketing campaigns or managing simple performance. How this information is stored, organized, classified, shared and secured are classic information management concerns which need new proven solutions. Many organizations are moving towards cloud services forcing hard discussions about which information to store, where it is stored, and who has access rights to this information.

This change in how we store, manage and make available information is set against a fluid background of changing legislation surrounding what organizations can and cannot do with information. Rights to access information, rights to information privacy, rights to data protection, and other assorted information laws vary locally, nationally, and internationally resulting in a complex and shifting network of laws, policies and guidelines that institutions must create systems and practices to manage. The role of information is essential in all these processes, as a resource for learning, managing change, developing and running processes and creating professional networks.

The information revolution within our workplaces calls for a new examination of information, information technology and information practices within the modern workplace. There is no single framework nor epistemological perspective that single-handedly explains the entire phenomena of workplace information, but rather the different work situations are made of aggregations where information plays in from several perspectives.

How to study the work place from an information perspective?

This richness of views on workplace information leads to different understandings of information-related activities, such as information need, information management, information sources, information sharing, information production, information storing, information retrieval, information searching/seeking, information valuing, and information use. Some of these concepts have been discussed since the beginning of workplace information studies, while others are new concepts coming from the latest trends and developments in workplace information environments. The richness of approaches and varying meanings for concepts can create deep understandings but also conceptual confusion.9781783302758

One of the motivations for our new book Information at Work is that such themes and concepts are often considered separately, by distinct groupings of scholars, and appearing in venues that offer little interaction between these topics. This, in part, comes from the perspective taken by individual authors – our disciplinary backgrounds bring their own theories, models and ways of looking at the world and, hence, different ways of approaching the study of information in the workplace. These different approaches can focus on different objects of study (environments, systems, tasks, objects, practices etc.), some of which are more amenable to certain theories and ways of doing research than others. Each perspective is valuable in highlighting different aspects of what it means to study workplace information. Bringing these perspectives together in one text we hope will show the diversity in this rich area of study and promote new discussions on how we can appreciate these perspectives to create new ways of investigating and understanding different phenomena within the field of workplace information.
Our aim in this book is to present the full spectrum of workplace information research, flowing from contributions on the nature of work when viewed from an Information Science perspective, through considerations of the social and cultural environments in which we work, to issues of managing our work and the information we need to do work, to discussions of the information artefacts and properties of those artefacts that enable us to ‘work’ with information to complete our ‘work’.

As information professionals, how often do we consider whether our workplace information environments are working for us?

Ian Ruthven is a Professor of Information Seeking and Retrieval at the University of Strathclyde. He published over 100 articles in the areas of interactive information retrieval and information seeking and edited two collections: Interactive Information Seeking, Behaviour and Retrieval (with Diane Kelly) and Cultural Heritage Information Access and Management (with Gobinda Chowdhury).

New edited collection on managing digital cultural objects

Facet Publishing have announced the publication of Managing Digital Cultural Objects: Analysis, discovery and retrieval edited by Allen Foster and Pauline Rafferty both at Aberystwyth University.Foster & R Managing digital cultural objects_COVER

The book explores the analysis and interpretation, discovery and retrieval of a variety of non-textual objects, including image, music and moving image.

Bringing together chapters written by leading experts in the field, the first part of this book provides an overview of the theoretical and academic aspects of digital cultural documentation and considers both technical and strategic issues relating to cultural heritage projects, digital asset management and sustainability. The second part includes contributions from practitioners in the field focusing on case studies from libraries, archives and museums. While the third and final part considers social networking and digital cultural objects.

Managing Digital Cultural Objects: Analysis, discovery and retrieval draws from disciplines including information retrieval, library and information science (LIS), digital preservation, digital humanities, cultural theory, digital media studies and art history. It’s argued that this multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach is both necessary and useful in the age of the ubiquitous and mobile web.

Key topics covered include:

  • Managing, searching and finding digital cultural objects
  • Data modelling for analysis, discovery and retrieval
  • Social media data as a historical source
  • Visual digital humanities
  • Digital preservation of audio content
  • Photos on social networking sites
  • Searching and creating affinities in web music collections
  • Film retrieval on the web.

The book will provide inspiration for students seeking to develop creative and innovative research projects at Masters and PhD levels and will be essential reading for those studying digital cultural object management. Equally, it should serve practitioners in the field who wish to create and develop innovative, creative and exciting projects in the future.

About the editors:

Allen Foster has a BA in Social History, a Master’s in Information Management and a PhD in Information Science.  As Reader in Information Science, he has held various roles, including Head of Department for Information Studies, at Aberystwyth University.  His research interest areas span the research process of Master’s and
PhD students, the development of models for information behaviour and serendipity, and user experience of information systems, creativity and information retrieval. He has guest edited for several journal special issues, is a regional editor for The Electronic Library and is a member of journal editorial boards, international panels and conference committees.

Dr Pauline Rafferty MA(Hons) MSc MCLIP is a Senior Lecturer and Director of Teaching and Learning at the Department of Information Studies, Aberystwyth University. She previously taught at the Department of Information Science, City University London, and in the School of Information Studies and Department of Media and Communication at the University of Central England, Birmingham.


Sarah Higgins, Aberystwyth University

Katrin Weller, GESIS Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences

Hannah Dee, Aberystwyth University

Lorna Hughes, University of Glasgow

Lloyd Roderick, Aberystwyth University

Alexander Brown,  Aberystwyth University

Maureen Pennock, British Library

Michael Day, British Library

Will Prentice, British Library

Corinne Jörgensen, Florida State University (Emeritus)

Nicola Orio, University of Padua

Kathryn La Barre, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Rosa Ines de Novias Cordeiro, Federal Fluminense University, Rio de Janeiro

Foundations of Library and Information Science

Foundations of LIS

Foundations of Library and Information Science offers a firm underpinning of knowledge and guidance for LIS students and professionals alike. It will prepare LIS students and professionals to cope with and effectively manage their many complex responsibilities by:

  • providing an introduction to the LIS field
  • identifying and discussing the current major topics and issues in LIS that will continue to affect the profession for years to come
  • providing librarians and information professionals with an opportunity to refresh their knowledge through a systematic review of the major issues and topics that have changed the field
  • placing LIS in a larger social, political, economic, political and cultural context
  • inviting readers to further explore topics raised in the book.

Responding to the many changes occurring both in the field and in society at large, this text includes comprehensive coverage of:

  • the impact of digital devices and social networking
  • the impact of digital publishing and e-books
  • the evolution of library services including virtual reference, embedded librarianship, digital access and repositories, digital preservation and civic engagement
  • the new efforts to organize knowledge including FRBR, RDF, BIBFRAME, the semantic web and the next-generation library catalogue
  • the significance of the digital divide and policy issues related to broadband access and network neutrality
  • legal developments including new interpretations of copyright related to mass digitization of books and scholarly articles
  • the continuing tensions in LIS education between information science and library science
  • new initiatives to integrate libraries, archives, and museums.

Spanning all types of libraries, from public to academic, school, and special, this book illuminates the major facets of library and information science for aspiring professionals as well as those already practicing in the field.

Foundations of Library and Information Science; December 2015; paperback; 648pp; 9781783300846; £54.95; is published by Facet Publishing and is available from Bookpoint Ltd | Tel: +44 (0)1235 827702 | Fax: +44 (0)1235 827703 | Email: | Web: | Mailing Address: Mail Order Dept, 39 Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4TD.  The US edition is available in North America through ALA Editions.

The information society: myth and reality

The following is extracted from The Information Society, 6th edition by John Feather


Image source: flickr cc pic by choffee

A little more than a decade into the new century, people over the age of 35 in the industrialized countries are increasingly conscious of living in a world that is profoundly and fundamentally different from that into which many of them were born. In less than two decades, we have seen technological, economic, political and cultural change on a scale which, as a retrospective view becomes possible, is beginning to justify the use of the word ‘revolution’ to describe it. But revolution is a word that we associate with violence, with the storming of the Bastille or the bombardment of the Winter Palace. The 1990s were indeed a violent decade in some places, but our revolution was only indirectly a part of that. It began in the 1970s and is not yet complete; it has been at once less obvious and more far-reaching than a mere change in a regime or even in a whole political system. It has been a revolution in our way of living, which, in one way or another, has affected every human being on the planet.

The symbol of the revolution is the computer, the ‘electronic brain’ of the ‘boffins’ in science fiction films of two or three generations ago, which now seem far older than their 50 or 60 years. The computer is in every office, on most desks and in millions of homes. Behind the scenes it is involved in almost everything we do, from buying our groceries to making a telephone call. Even after more than a century of almost continuous innovation in the technology of communication, and the invention of devices from the telegraph and the telephone to the television, the computer is perceived, however vaguely, as being in some way different. By understanding that difference, we can begin to understand the new society which the computer is helping to create, the revolution which it has both inspired and driven.


Image source: flickr cc pic by Mike Licht

It is now two centuries since the last comparable revolution was at its height in Britain. The exploitation of the power of steam was creating a new economy, and in so doing reordering patterns of work, social relationships and the structure and political organization of society. The new arrangements which stabilized in the first half of the 19th century were recognizably the successor of what had gone before, but unmistakably different from it. Institutions that survived were changed; many vanished, and many new ones were created. The revolution through which we are now living is at least as great in its significance.


Image source: flickr cc pic by SidPix

The steam engine was the motive power, both literal and metaphorical, of the industrial revolution; the computer is driving the revolution which is taking us into the third millennium. Why has this machine become so important? What is so special about these devices that has made them the force behind changes far greater than those wrought by any other invention of an inventive century? The answer lies in their ability to simulate skills and attributes that we once thought were unique to ourselves: memory, logic, communication. Machines that are able to emulate, and in some ways to surpass, the intellectual and social capacities of those who make them are both fascinating and frightening. The virtually unlimited production and availability of such devices cannot leave any aspect of human thought and activity wholly untouched.

Communication and memory are central to the human experience. So far as we know, we are the only creatures on earth with a true sense of history, a desire and an ability to remember and analyse events in the past, and to make arrangements that allow us to record our knowledge and ideas in perpetuity, so that they can be recovered and understood by generations not yet born in societies which do not yet exist. Uniquely, we can communicate across time and space and have developed systems and devices that enable us to do so. These developments began in the dawn of human history, with the evolution of language itself (which some anthropologists would argue is the dawn of human history in any meaningful sense) and the later invention of the first systems for recording and preserving language in a material form.

The information-dependent society that is emerging from our revolution – the post-industrial revolution as some analysts call it – combines both profound change and fundamental continuity. It can only be understood in context. Part of this context is historical: the development of writing, printing and systems of communication. Part of it is economic: the means by which systems for the communication of information have become enmeshed in general systems of social and economic organization, so that information and the means of its storage and transmission have been commodified. A third part is political: commodified information is valorized by more than merely the cost of its production and distribution, for there is a real power to be derived from its possession and a loss of empowerment caused by its absence. These hypotheses about the origins, development and implications of the information society are at the heart of this book. The book begins with an historical survey, which sweeps without apology across much of the history of mankind. In that history, we observe first the development of writing, as people seek to preserve more information than their memories can hold and communicate it to those to whom they cannot speak. We trace the development of different systems of writing until one – the alphabet – emerges and supersedes almost all of the others because it is an adaptable and flexible means of preserving the languages in which we think and speak. Even the alphabet, however, cannot cope with all the concepts that the human mind can invent. Systems were developed which enabled our ancestors to record sound (as musical notation), numeric data and the relationship between them (as numbers and symbols for mathematical functions) and visual representation of size, shape and colour.


Image source: flickr cc pic by

In the second phase of our history, a mechanical device – printing – was applied to the chronicling and dissemination of the information which was thus recorded. The invention of printing has been seen as a defining moment in the history of mankind. Certainly, it facilitated important changes in the organization and structure of western European culture, religion and politics, and was to be one of the instruments of European domination of almost all of the rest of the world. In the smaller world of communications, printing had another effect which we consider at length: it was the fundamental reason for the commodification of communications. A printer, we shall argue, needed more than merely skills in order to practise his craft successfully; a printer also needed both capital for the equipment with which the product was made and distribution systems through which the product could be sold. The printed book was the first mass medium, because it was economically impossible for it to be anything else.


image source: flickr cc pic by Eneas De Troya

Out of printing there developed the vast edifice of the publishing industry, the first significant manifestation of communications entering the world of commerce. The process of writing, producing and selling printed books was, for 400 years, the unchallenged system of communication between literate people. It became so familiar as to become a paradigm; its vocabulary and some of its customs have been imitated by the producers and consumers of very different media. In this book, the paradigm has been exploited to the full. There is a substantial analysis of the process of book publishing, and of the industry that has developed around it. This is developed as a model of commercial systems for the communication of knowledge and information, which can be applied in turn to the other media that have proliferated in the last 100 years.

The development of those other media – sound, vision, computing, and various combinations of them – is the final historical strand in this study. The history of information and communication in the last 150 years is, in part, the history of the development of new devices and systems which have extended our power to communicate in two ways. First, they have made it more systematic and faster and hence more efficient. Secondly, and more importantly, they have extended the scope of what can be communicated. Above all, accurate representations of visual phenomena – photography, film, video – have become a part of our daily lives. We have moved beyond text and language into the storage and communication of images of the visual world in which we actually live. Other inventions have speeded the transmission of information: the telegraph, the telephone, radio, television. These tools of communication are the building blocks of the information society. An increasingly literate society has, paradoxically, become more dependent than ever on oral and visual communication systems.

Only at the very end of our historical story do we reach the computer, and yet as soon as we do so we can begin to see its all-pervasive effects. The computer has brought together so many of the developments of the past. It has both demanded and facilitated the convergence of technologies, which allows us to combine computing with telecommunications and the digitization of text and image to permit almost instantaneous worldwide (and indeed extra-terrestrial) transmission of data.


Image source: flickr cc pic by theducks

The historical approach in Chapter 1 (free to view and download as a PDF here) and  Chapter 2 is essentially an attempt to sketch the history of the storage, communication and retrieval of information, in terms of media and technology. We turn next to the economic issues that have arisen, which are becoming more acute and which are being more urgently addressed because of the increasing predominance of technology in the process of information provision and the delivery of information services. Information, as has already been suggested, was commodified and valorized by the invention of printing and the consequent development of an industry which used printing as its key technology. Publishing – the paradigm – is in the front line of exposure to change under the impact of the information revolution. The market-place itself is being redefined and extended. Some activities traditionally associated with publishing and others traditionally associated with libraries are being disaggregated and recombined. The new configurations have wide implications far beyond the boundaries of the academic world in which many of them originated. E-mail and electronic publishing are only two of the more obvious applications of the combination of computing and telecommunications which we broadly describe as ‘information technology’.

The printed word, which has been the traditional commodity in the information market-place, was supplemented and to a limited extent displaced throughout the 20th century. The information revolution encompasses all those media that communicate information to recipients. In the developed world, and indeed far beyond it, the most potent medium of all is television, the near-universal domestic source of information, entertainment and social interaction. Broadcasting, first in sound only and then in both sound and vision, has been with us for nearly 100 years. Its ability to transmit information and opinion instantaneously, with great apparent authority and directly to the home, was a force whose power was recognized before World War II and has been consistently exploited by governments, pressure groups and commercial interests ever since it was identified. Radio and television are integral to the information revolution, and yet they are also subject to it. Satellite broadcasting, which is computer-dependent, has brought a new sense of freedom to the television industry, but, like so many other developments, has also reiterated, if reiteration were needed, the need for huge capital investment to gain access to this key medium of information and influence.


Image source: flickr cc pic by woodleywonderworks

It is not only the mass media that have changed the information market­place. Broadcasting is, by definition, a public activity. Information, however, is increasingly seen, in some respects, as being too valuable to be public. Stored in databases throughout the world is information with commercial potential to which access is restricted by the ability of the information-seeker to pay for it. Again a revolution is being wrought. The library is the historic paradigm of information storage and retrieval as publishing is of information marketing. Libraries, like publishers, have been in the front line of change. These changes are far from superficial; it is not just that libraries now contain a wide range of media, and are increasingly dependent upon technology both for their management and for the provision of services to users. There are far more profound economic changes, for libraries are part of the increasingly commercialized chain of information supply. Traditionally, the library was merely the customer of the publisher. Now it has the potential to be the publisher’s partner in many enterprises, and librarians are reassessing their attitudes to the cost of information supply. Outside the confines of the institutional library, information providers have few of the inhibitions that have traditionally made librarians look askance at such matters. Information has values assigned to it, and it is provided at a profit to the provider; prices are determined by the forces of the market.

It is out of these economic themes covered in Chapters 3 and 4 that the political themes that predominate in Chapters 5 and 6 emerge. On a global scale, there is a growing gap between the rich and the poor in access to information as in so much else. The technological developments of the last 60 years have made more information more available to more people than at any other time in human history. At the same time, however, the cost of those technologies, and the cost of gaining access to information through them, have made it often difficult and sometimes impossible for information to be obtained by its potential beneficiaries. This is the central paradox and the central political dilemma of the information revolution. As in the industrial revolution, in different ways, the benefits to the majority, encompassed in the abstraction of ‘society’, are being achieved partly at the expense of weaker and poorer individuals whose skills are becoming outmoded and whose earning power is consequently declining.

The revolution in the communication of information has created what is sometimes called a ‘global village’. Yet instant access and instantaneous transmission depend upon a vastly expensive infrastructure of telecommunications and broadcasting systems on the part of the providers, and the acquisition of appropriate equipment (and sometimes skills) on the side of the consumers. Those who are excluded are the majority of the populations of most of the Third World and significant minorities even in richer countries. Even in the USA, the cabling of the ‘information superhighway’, the optic fibre network which can bring digital communications to the home, was politicized as the provider companies avoided poorer areas of cities to concentrate on the richer areas where demand and profits was higher. The gap between information rich and information poor is increasingly overt.


Image source: flickr cc pic by Jlhopgood

If that gap is the wider political dimension of the information revolution, its most obvious immediate political consequence has been to change, or to threaten or promise to change, the relationship between the state and its own citizens. Governments, like businesses, cannot function without information, and as they become more complex so do their information needs. Much of this is not only legitimate, it is both essential and benevolent. A modern state cannot function without such basic data as that provided by censuses, tax returns and electoral registers. There is, however, a debate, perhaps not yet sufficiently well articulated, about the boundaries of the legitimate information needs of a democratic state. Information about identifiable individuals is sensitive, and yet there are cases in which its dissemination, perhaps to a tightly defined group of recipients, is clearly in the public interest. In other cases, there can be no such interest, and dissemination is clearly an invasion of legitimate privacy. But there is an increasing number of less clear-cut areas, where the organs and agencies of the state are collecting information of great potential value or harm. The process of regulation – of balancing the general good against individual rights – has begun, but is still embryonic. The whole issue, complex enough already, was at the beginning of the 21st century further complicated by the growing concern with international networks of both criminals and terrorists; they are also among the beneficiaries of information and communications technology.

Historically, the state has always been a participant in the process of information transfer. It regulates the operation of the market-place through laws that control the dissemination of intellectual property, such as copyrights and patents, and also, in most cases, by exercising a certain level of moral jurisdiction through censorship. The state’s role, however, like so much else, is being transformed by the information revolution. The very concept of copyright, which for 300 years has been the legal foundation-stone of the publishing industry, becomes blurred when the technology of copying is uncontrollably widely available. As the historic functions of publishers and libraries begin to converge in electronic publishing and electronic document supply services, the very nature of copyright will need to be redefined. There are changes too in the general perception of the state’s right to intervene by intercepting private communications and controlling the content or availability of those intended for public consumption. These are lively political issues which touch on the fundamental principles of political democracy and an open society.


Image source: flickr cc pic by marfis75

These three aspects of the evolution of the information society – the historical, the economic, the political – are considered in turn. Each raises its own questions, yet all are interrelated. The questions are not new, but they have all been made more urgent by the power of the computer to store, process and transmit information. In the industrialized countries it is no longer possible to conduct many of the most basic transactions of daily life without using the power of computers. Our greatest tool of information and communication is in danger of becoming our master. Much of this book is concerned with trying to define the issues that are raised by this prospect.

Finally, there is one group of people in society who have a special role to play in the information revolution. Computer scientists and information workers are the engineers of the post-industrial revolution (see Chapter 7). More than any other group, publishers, librarians and archivists have seen their professions transformed; whole new professions have come into existence as governments, businesses, industries and institutions have struggled to reposition themselves to deal with the new technologies of information and communication. In those parts of the world where the information revolution has made its greatest impact, the information professionals are becoming a larger and larger part of the workforce as a whole. But it is not only those professionals whose lives are being profoundly changed. Patterns of work and patterns of employment are being transformed as radically now as they were in the move from an agricultural to an industrial economy 200 years ago. Manufacturing itself is no longer dependent upon the mass employment of labour as computer-based devices are made which can undertake the routine work of making and assembling parts. We are living in the midst of this revolution. Those who are seeking to enter the information and communications professions – for whom this book is principally intended – need to be able to formulate the questions to which the answers will prescribe the limits of their professional lives. Some of those questions are posed, and a few of the answers are suggested, in the rest of this book.


This is extracted from The Information Society, 6th edition by John Feather.

You can browse a sample chapter of the book here for free.

Find out more information, browse the table of contents and purchase The Information Society, 6th edition here.