Paper review: Information Science is Neither

Furner, J. (2015). Information Science Is Neither. Library Trends, 63(3), 362–377. http://doi.org/10.1353/lib.2015.0009
I read with this paper a review Furner did of the English translation of Briet’s French text: What is Documentation? The purpose of reading Furner, the review and the 2015 paper is part of my quest to understand documentation and concepts of the document.
 
Furner, J. (2008). What Is Documentation?: English Translation of the Classic French Text. Libraries and the Cultural Record, (1), 107.
I was introduced to Buckland’s 1991 Information as thing paper in 2006 when I first started my Masters, but never really went into it or explored the notion of the document any further. In archives I recall discussions about documents related to structure and content (of a record) and how to undertake a document reading using multiple components that make up content and structure. This would help to arrive at context – somewhat. The definition of a record also includes metadata – the capture of context – which is important to understanding where a record is located in (any) time and space.
  
Record = content + structure + metadata
I have begun to explore documentation in more depth because of Helen Samuels and documentation traditions, but also because this is now part of what I teach and research. I investigate, write about and critique collections/acquisition/appraisal policy from a complex, evidential point of view within a continuum philosophy, but what other ideas might be of interest? I note that definitions of the document in Furner’s review, as he compares different translations, refer to representation, reconstruction, demonstration (proving) something. This is very similar to my thoughts about ‘records as trace’ as described by the continuum, drawn from Derrida’s work. What is implied in this definition of the document is that a document cannot be the thing, but is only part of something. I have written about then and now and understandings of time within the context of records and will dig this out and post it. I am of the camp that claims that all documents are records and that all records are evidence of something. If they are good evidence, or represent good proof, well, that is another matter, completely subjective, dependent on purpose and context of use. There is something else here in relation to meaning and memory (or memory-making) that I think is missing. This is what the purpose of the document or the record is, whether it does it successfully or not. Representation, demonstration and reconstruction all point towards a greater purpose – remembering. And I would also link identity, defined in various ways including individual, group, organizational, institutional, but also cultural, societal etc. Memory and identity cannot be separated from each other and the intersections of these are as important as considering each on its own.
 
Furner’s paper, Information Science is Neither, drew me into another thought bubble about conceptualisation and I see that he has written another paper I need to read:
 
Furner, J. (2004). Conceptual Analysis: A Method for Understanding Information as Evidence, and Evidence as Information. Archival Science, 4(3), 233–265.
I had a discussion with a colleague yesterday about how to do research into theory as I am very interested in exploring conceptual positions within the archival discipline. It seems odd to me that continuum theory is positioned next to or opposed with lifecycle theory when the lifecycle is not a theory but a work process. I want to know if there is a theory that underpins the lifecycle, if it is shared between all people who refer to the lifecycle, and whether it can be related to current paradigms. My proposition is that the lifecycle approach to archives and records is a positivist view but is not a consistent concept and that people actually think about and implement lifecycle positions in quite diverse ways.
Onto Furner’s ideas about information science, a discipline I am unclear about. In Australia, the school and the faculty talked about archival systems and information systems. I also tried to figure out the meaning of archival science without much success and in the end use this term to describe that people do research in the area of archives. Epistemology, ontology and methodology.
My thoughts are random and may be developed more later:
  • The first thing I wondered is if there is a philosophy of archives and is Derrida the only (known) person in that club?
  • I laughed.
  • Information is something people (do not) search for. People use information to search for something. Some other meaning or goal. Or to make sense of something. People do not search for information as the goal.
  • Same goes for retrieval. The end goal is not to retrieve information, but to find something.
  • I am already thinking that how stuff is defined and how language is used to communicate these ideas, contributes to how solutions are understood and evolved. For example: if I think that people are interested in searching for people’s names then I will have a search field of author. And I will structure the database so people can search via author. But what if I think that people are interested in searching for stories, or how something is made, or what connections it has to something else? These are sometimes built into databases and it is possible to see the medium, format, linked subjects and so on, but this is not necessarily what people are interested in. Or wanting to find. Something else I have been thinking a lot about lately is how what technologies are created construct the meaning of how they are supposed to be used. For example: Facebook works in a particular way, there is a timeline, posts, etc. But I cannot search my own or anyone else’s timeline. I cannot represent my information in different ways. Facebook apps do this, but again, I cannot do what I might want to do. People create work arounds or create new software/apps/platforms.
  • People create, communicate, search for, share, access and develop meaning and meaningful ways to interact with each other using various tools. Meaning-making is about culture as the transmission of ideas. Memory is part of culture and in particular, remembering. Without remembering there is no transmission of something over time.
  • Can a philosophy of information include philosophy of archives? The more I think about this the more I think that these are separate. But looking at the idea about people and meaning, this includes archives, so maybe not.
  • Furner explores the idea of activities of representation and results of representation, and positions them as separate. I disagree. In the same way that people use technologies in expected and unexpected ways, activities of representation must include how results impact on activities.  Furner might think this too, but does not make this clear as his argument moves on towards explaining types of representation.
  • Collection, access and preservation studies. I don’t like it. It does not articulate very well the social and cultural aspects of interacting with and generating meaning and memory.
  • I agree with the idea of situating information studies within a cultural understanding of how information is used, but my mind keeps trying to fit in the idea of dimensions of memory and the action/outcome system in relation to memory into a cultural understanding. I have been talking to people about a cultural understanding of recordkeeping and archives for a long time with varied success. My position comes from the idea that people make decisions about things related to records all the time. These decisions are necessarily influenced by culture at various levels and forms part of the complexity of how recordkeeping gets done. For example: a collections policy is only ever implemented as far as an individual interprets it. The interpretation is always going to be cultural – from their own understanding of meaning-making, the bosses, the organization, etc. There might be processes in place, but these are also interpreted via these cultural frameworks. This is also then related to memory. So many times I heard from employees that NFPs do not do business. This is absolutely not true, but it depends on definition, which is interpreted. Interpretation is cultural. Furner refers to a resources continuum that influences decisions and I think this is particularly useful. It also makes me think of needing to explore cultural theory more.
  • “We want to know about the ways in which individual people construct representations of the natural and cultural world with which they interact, and we want to understand the very nature of representation and interpretation.” p. 375. There is more Furner has written here in his last paragraph which is wonderful. I like that he mentions that we want to know the ‘ways’, ‘how’ and ‘about’ in relation to various activities related to people and stuff.
  • I prefer the terms, meaning-making and memory-making in relation to stuff. Although these are problematic.

In case you were wondering, my reviews of these articles are in fact my notes and thoughts rather than an evaluation. This paper is so well written and logical and I have read it twice now, and I think there is more for me to learn here. This may be another post. Or not. As a wise woman once said to me (actually she said it lots) – everything is process. I am going to add – so live with it.

Paper review – Self-determination and archival autonomy: advocating activism

Evans, J., McKemmish, S., Daniels, E., & McCarthy, G. (2015). Self-determination and archival autonomy: advocating activism. Archival Science, 15(4), 337–368. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10502-015-9244-6
This paper is a really important part of the growing discourse and awareness of the active role archivists in the profession and in academia can take. It illuminates the particular situation in Australia, as well as references examples around the world. The authors make it clear what needs changing – access, discovery, rights, appraisal, description and disclosure. Some of these are key archival terms that all archivists are aware of. But the key aspect of this paper that shines brightest to me is the continuum perspective. The authors state that they have taken a continuum point of view and they talk about recordkeeping, co-creators, multiple provenance, but the key to what they mean by continuum is in the use of the concept  – the system.
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There are several ways this is mentioned in the paper and one of the first is the goal of addressing identity, memory and accountability needs that also includes redress, recovery, emotional, medical and psychological health, financial security and right to legal restitution of individuals and communities. This statement might make you think about context and yes, these are contexts, but these ideas are really about understanding the systems that underpin why and how records are created and how they become archives. Archivists often talk about ‘contexts’ and how context provides information about how records are created and managed before they get to the archive. Legal, organizational and social contexts. But these are not just impacting on the record, but are part of the record
A systemic view of archives acknowledges that records are not just things but are part of systems of many things – linked to activities, interaction, people and mandates. Recordkeeping is a term that embodies this notion of a system of records – not just the things themselves, but why they are created and how, as well as how actions related to the record (or records at various aggregations) impacts on what role the record might play. This is why the term archival systems is important and the notion of systemic issues is a vital position within the archival activism discourse, but also within a wider archival discourse.
 
From a social perspective, referencing Giddens (as the continuum models do), the notion of systems refers to the interconnectedness of things and processes, but also to how these enact and influence the evolution of the systems. How the system works is not just what the system does, but how it is adapted through various mechanisms, particularly power. This is why the concept of archival autonomy, which is raised in the paper, is so important. It is not just about understanding or advocating for rights in records such as access or privacy, but to change the system so rights are inherent in how records are conceived of within the system.
I have been working recently in articulating the core principles or theory that is continuum theory, or perhaps information continuum theory, as developed by the Australians. Yes, it references various other theories, including structuration theory, but what about information continuum theory is theory? One of my first suggestions is that information continuum theory posits that records exist within a system of interconnected networks. These networks act as contexts to help position the record within spacetime. The networks can be micro and detailed, such as an individual making a decision about deleting an email because it is spam, to macro and expansive, such as how archives build collections because they have a mandate to preserve memory. The macro point of view is inclusive of the micro – they are always connected in some way. Context can include technology, law, community, social norms, culture and so on. Incidentally, this is my fractal explanation of multiple complex realities existing in different planes. I have written about it in my PhD and am thinking about writing a paper on it.
 
The system and the network documents multiple complex realities. The archival autonomy concept in the system (or the fractal) means that at any point in the network an individual has a role to play and a voice to be heard. The paper refers to individuals and communities and although I understand the concept of a community having an identity and memory, I believe that only the individual can articulate that community identity through remembering and action. Shared memory only exists within individuals. Ultimately, what this is about is power and the individual right to power within a complex system.
 
So, two important things can be drawn from these ideas. Firstly, if information continuum theory therefore also posits that if there are multiple complex realities then there are also multiple ways to comprehend recorded information, including those that are yet to be discovered, or those that are hidden, as well as those that appear to be incommensurate. Secondly, if records exist within a system then the concept of the archive as being a stage or past a threshold does not make as much sense. Although, the threshold idea can be seen within the context of the fractal view and within an understanding of movement of power – part of the contexts or network. This is why the idea of archival autonomy is important because it recognises that the systems that support the archive need to include the idea that an individual is part of the network of contexts and are as valuable to design and decision making as the societal mandates for preservation of memory, or legal obligations etc. How the concept of archival autonomy plays out within the system is something that this paper explores. The case studies presented demonstrate very clearly what it means for an individual to be part of the system.
 
Two final thoughts:
  1. Can the concept of archival autonomy be considered within a cultural heritage framework, such as in my own work with understanding social media as cultural heritage?
  2. From this perspective, is all archival research activist? The paper mentions two archival research projects that are about particular communities in Australia that have strong advocacy identities. Is the topic what makes them activist? The research goals? Engagement with critical theory? Engagement with action research methods? Identification of change?