Reflections from the Library & Information Science Research Coalition Conference

LISlogo I was recently invited to amplify the Library and Information Science (LIS) Research Coalition’s first conference, which was held at the British Library on 28th June 2010. Whilst much of the event was focussed on discussing and identifying the key needs within the LIS research environment (making it a true conference), I was struck by some of the points raised by the keynote speaker, Professor Andrew Dillon from the University of Texas. Dillon did not mention Transliteracy, but brought up several issues that I felt resonated and could be viewed through the lens of Transliteracy.

Dillon’s main point was that library and information science research should be separated into two strands: research examining the technology of organising and presenting, and research studying the ways in which humans deal with information. I thought this distinction was actually really useful in terms of analysing my own creative practice, as I tend to sit in the blurry area where these two strands overlap, assessing the success of the technologies I am using to tell a particular story in terms of how intuitive they are to use. This does not make me think fully about either the technology or about the way that story is being digested. The usability of the technology is important, but it is only one edge of how humans deal with digital stories and it is easy to get distracted by this rather than taking a wider view of both the human and the technological aspect of the story.

I also found it interesting that Dillon discussed the current obsession with information retrieval, pointing out that this has resulted in too little emphasis on longitudinal outcomes of reading. He expressed concern over the emergence of a new literacy that emphasises search over comprehension, and leads to a loss of “deep” reading skills. The internet is dominated by link-based systems, so it is inevitable that people will be reading in this way and he observed that this in itself this is not a bad thing. However, we need to move beyond the instant and study the longer tale of information use – particularly the process of adjustment to new technology. I was previously unaware that usability studies tend only to look at the instant response when judging the communicative success of a technology (in much the same way as I look for digital fiction to be intuitive as a first priority), but there is then little study of how the information is then used and interpreted, or how the human interacting with the new technology adapts to it over time. This longer tale has more to do with how people develop new literacies and how literacies (as conventions) themselves evolve.

What I found most reassuring about the whole presentation was Dillon’s reminder that explaining Gutenberg’s impact on communication took centuries. However, we are expected to explain the contribution of the internet now. It will take time to fully understand and appreciate the long term impacts of this relatively new technology on how we communicate and what range of literacies we will need to negotiate the modern world. He remarked that data is stored; information is experienced. Studying how technology impacts on this experience will take time.

Overall, whilst this presentation was clearly aimed at helping to provoke fresh thinking about the value, impact and focus of library and information science research, I found that these ideas were useful as a basis for assessing my own research and practice with respect to transliteracy: look at the technology and the humans separately, look at the longer tale of interaction and don’t expect to see all the answers instantly.

My summary of Professor Dillon’s full presentation is available at the LIS Research Coalition’s website here.

Professor Dillon’s slides are available on Slideshare here.