Paper review: Information Science is Neither

Furner, J. (2015). Information Science Is Neither. Library Trends, 63(3), 362–377.
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.