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Possibly the most used, and the least
precisely used, term in the library and
information world. Best seen as holding
the place in the spectrum between raw
data and knowledge...
A discipline which investigates the
characteristics of information and the
nature of the information transfer process...
(from the International Encyclopedia of
Information and Library Sciences)
In a recently published Swedish licenciate thesis in the subject of computing science the author chooses to describe the concept of information that forms the basis for (library and) information science in the following way:
Information science is concerned with large information spaces. Traditionally, much of the information has been stored as paper documents, and physical documents have been considered as true information, but the concept of information covers more than physical documents. (Broberg, 1997, p. 53)
At which he refers to the following quotation:
On the one hand information is the result of a transformation of the generator's cognitive structure (by intentionally, model of recipients' states of knowledge, and in the form of signs)... ...on the other hand it is something that, when perceived, affects and transforms the recipient's state of knowledge. (Ingwersen, 1994, p. 139)
I believe that this view is a very common one in the understanding that library and information science has of itself, although I spare the reader a list of similar statements because they are seen so often that everyone in this area has met up with them. Instead I will show my extreme scepticism of a science that chooses to study information and for which information means the contents of a physical document and at the same time the mental understanding of the contents of a document.
The following is entirely devoted to criticising definitions of the discipline of library and information science that have their starting point in a concept of information that covers both physical and mental aspects, called here the cognitive channel metaphor, and thus refrains from commenting upon other information concepts.
My critique is based on the assumption of this double information concept that the observer (the subject) can "read" the world (the object) in a direct relation, i.e. that a specific reader can read a specific text and that these two units can be understood separately. My views belong to a philosophy that has worked to disperse this traditional view of the subject/object relation. I also want to make clear that I use a subject concept that has its base in the "I", that is the individual's thinking and being.
It should also be said that when I, in the arguments I give here, set the words subject and object in quotation marks I mean to mark that I see this division as highly problematic and for the most part not even usable. However, I cannot refrain here from their use as I criticise a research view that I believe is based on the notion that there exists a simple division between subject and object. The same applies for the concept of information.
This "information concept" is thus one that is usually more or less correctly/incorrectly thought to derive from theory developed by Claude Shannon in 1948 to describe what happens in the telephone network, i.e. the well known sender/receiver model that describes how speech is transmitted into electrical signals that are then transmitted into waves in the air that are understood by the ear as speech, which does not actually take a position toward the receiver's true understanding.
This principally physical channel metaphor is transformed into a cognitive channel metaphor at the moment that the receiver's understanding is included, and it is used to reflect all forms of human communication. In my understanding, the cognitive channel metaphor is equal to the sender/receiver model, with the addition of the receiver's understanding, as both physical and mental aspects are used in one and the same metaphor: the "subject" so to speak meets the "object". There are a number of variations of this metaphor, that often include the following:
I see the model as general in the sense that it does not matter which individual or which message is in question. A decision on the death penalty goes through the same abstract process as a love letter does. At the same time, the model shall be seen as a description of individual empirical events. An actual person's intentions are transferred into an actual message that can be transferred into an actual text that can actually be handled and can then actually be read such that it can actually lead to knowledge in an actual person. When Romulo Enmark borrows a book to then read it, this corresponds to the latter half of the model.
As I see it, the model's individuality exists together with the fact that it has been given the aspect of mental understanding. Registering the world is a solitary thing. No one can experience the world through another person's awareness. The closest we come to that is interpreting what someone else has achieved in, for example, speech and writing. Thus of course one's surroundings influence one's way of understanding the world, but we understand individually and, as the model includes understanding and knowledge, it must also be individual. This also explains why I have included the concepts of "subject" and "object". Individual understanding requires that I, a person, a subject, translate what is not understood into what is understood.
As the model has this individual, "subjective" character, I draw the following conclusion: The cognitive channel metaphor as expressed in the sender/receiver model presupposes a point at which/when the sender's message (especially in recorded form) meets the receiver's brain, preferably in such a way that a harmonious understanding occurs, i.e. the receiver takes in the sender's message such that it fairly well concurs with the sender's intentions. This can also be expressed in the following way. The information process in its cognitive channel metaphoric version expresses the thought that there is a point at which the world, the "object" (in this case the sender's message in recorded form), meets man's thought, the "subject" (in this case the receiver's understanding of the sender's message in recorded form).
I wish in fact to state that the point (in fact there are two, the physical also meets the mental at the moment that the sender's intentions are transferred to a document, which I have chosen not to discuss here) is a prerequisite for maintaining the cognitive channel metaphor's inner logic. Without the point (points) there is no direct flow between the sender and the receiver. The information process then becomes so to speak without process.
I personally have great difficulty with the cognitive channel metaphor. I believe that its nature is metaphysical in the sense that it reflects something about which we cannot speak, because, in my view, we cannot empirically find what the cognitive channel metaphor promises. Thus in this essay I will state:
This leads to the conclusion that the cognitive channel metaphorical definition of the discipline of library and information science must preferably be abandoned and that this should take place such:
To do this, I will present my reasoning about how an alternative definition of the subject may be formed, starting with what are here called institution-based structures and processes typical for these structures.
Thus the primary purpose of this essay is the following: to criticise a subject-defining concept of information that has its point of departure in the uncomplicated cognitive metaphor's "subject/object relationship" .
Particularly important in this context are phenomenology, hermeneutics and existential philosophy. This philosophical tradition asserts the notion that nothing can be understood without an understanding. A CD with rap music is in other words not a CD with rap music unless we know in one way or another that it is a CD with rap music, which in turn means that we must have some form of knowledge about music, rap music, the production of music, CD records etc. It is impossible for us to identify the specific point at which the receiver suddenly learns what a CD with rap music is. Instead, it is an internalisation over time whose different parts can not be distinguished from one another. Each meeting between the "subject" and the "object" has thus begun long before the particular meeting is assumed to have occurred, at the same time that each meeting between the "subject" and the "object" in fact never comes to an end.
It can also be discussed whether the "subject" even manages to determine what/where/when it itself actually is. Sartre, among others, puts forth the idea that man is never at home. Thoughts are always somewhere else, that is, in the world of the "object". No one is able to think of himself as the "subject". Instead, one takes oneself around the surrounding world in order to understand oneself: what does my boss think of my work, I wish I could fly to the West Indies, think if I didn't have to read this boring essay etc.? With this, the "subject" as a person is a product of the way in which he/she acts and intends to act toward the "object". Thus the "subject" cannot understand the "object" without already having an understanding of the "object", at the same time that the "subject" cannot understand himself without first making his way past the "object", as the "subject" in turn cannot understand without a prior understanding (i.e. a hermeneutic spiral). The conclusion can be drawn from this that the "subject" cannot be limited to his or her own I. The boundary between the "subject" and the "object" becomes indistinct.
This reasoning can be carried further by referring to Wittgenstein (whose ideas of course do not belong among the phenomenological and hermeneutic traditions but who also came to contribute to philosophy's dispelling of the subject/object relationship). According to Wittgenstein it is impossible to understand the world without going via language/languages. It is not possible to act directly toward a CD with rap music. To be able to think about this "object" the individual must have mastered some form of language (including musical language) that makes it possible for him to give the "object" a place in his own thoughts. It is in other words not the CD with rap music that language/languages succeed in conveying into thought. Language becomes so to speak both the framework for what can be said about the world and what cannot be said. This is not to say that the CD with rap music does not exist, but on the other hand it can not be described it as it "truly" is (whatever "truly" may be).
if the "subject" cannot be separated by some boundary from the "object"
Neither is "object" in itself neutral. A person (not myself) may certainly claim that each individual can have an uncomplicated relationship with, for example, granite or a mountain chain because these phenomena in their nature of raw entities do not convey any of the statements fabricated by people about the conditions of the world. But this type of "object" is in the minority (if it even actually exists). Most of what we are exposed to in our world is offered in a cultivated form; this has to do with everything from landscape architecture to textbooks on indexing. Thus the "subject" in his "meeting" with "objects" is always being imputed something that in one way or another has been formed with the intent to guide his thoughts - even if the "subject" through his understanding and "tool-making" can experience the "object" in another way than was the "intent" for the "object" in another "subject's" perspective. In other words, each statement has its own contents value. A statue cannot be compared with a bus timetable, a section of the law is difficult to judge in the same way as a dirty story etc.
It also follows from this reasoning that the "subject's" understanding of the "object" can only occur with the help of other "subjects'" (colleagues, friends, people in the media etc.) "objectified" statements about the world. In other words, it is impossible to understand the world without comparing one's own understanding with that of others, and it is thereby impossible to defend the idea that understanding is something between the sender, the sender's message and the receiver.
From this it is a reasonable thought that the individual's possibility to understand the world is directly related to the languages he/she knows. Here, Wittgenstein refers to the concept of language games. Depending on the language game in which an individual is included, the understanding of the "object" will vary. To this Wittgenstein adds the thought that the different language games, regardless of which they are, have the same relevance. Since "reality" can in any case not be described using language, language is the only reality we know. The one language game is thus equally as reasonable/unreasonable as the other. Consequently, the "meeting" between the "subject" and the "object" can not be understood against the background of the "subject" and the "object" in themselves, but instead against the language games in which the "subject" and the "object" participate.
That which the non-existent point symbolises is thus exceedingly complex because each meeting between "subject" and "object" can not be delimited from previous "meetings" and future "meetings" and what the position of the "subject" is toward other "subjects". Each "meeting" has so to speak "its own anatomy".
This is further complicated by our talk here of the "subject's" understanding of the "object". From the subject's perspective, the concept of unreasonable does not exist. The understanding of a particular message can just as easily be connected to the individual's childhood with its bathroom training, games and schooling as to the adult's political notions, higher education and expertise in the area of the particular message. No relationship can be excluded because it has to do with awareness.
In other words, trivialization occurs because the cognitive channel metaphor does not take into consideration the social complexity in which the message and the understanding of the message is included and because a focus on the "subject" means that the understanding of the message can be connected to all other memories etc. that can be supposed to have relevance for the "subject".
In the area of library and information science, the trivialization problem is particularly unfortunate since one does not take a position toward the statements' contents in themselves (which one can do e.g. in a conversation) but toward the statements as a (more or less) large unit of statements that can be assumed to have relevance. Statements are so to speak emptied of their contents to instead become classified as subject areas. The intermediary does not even need to have read what is in the text (5). One magnifies the trivialization problem by adding to it the circumstance that the message lacks a content. The message that in itself is difficult to investigate owing to the complex social context of which it is a part becomes even more difficult to study because it has been relieved from the very beginning of its contents, which in turn means that all contexts are reasonable.
and the "object" is never neutral because it almost always has been belaboured by other "subjects",
at the same time that the "subject" cannot hold a position toward the "object" without holding a position to other "subjects" (in the form of "objects") that should be consulted to be able to understand the "object",
and the "subject" can only approach the "object" through language, and the different language games imply different interpretations and prevent the "subject" from reaching the "true" "object" (that is, if it is possible to hold a position toward "reality" at all),
then general descriptions of that which the non-existent point symbolises (such as the sender/receiver model) become trivial, if not to say uninteresting,
simply because the "subject" is an "unlimited telephone switchboard" that arbitrarily connects his impressions of "objects" and of other "subjects'" experiences of "objects" and other "subjects'" experiences of "objects" and so on, according to his own logic and motivation (which is actually a result of interaction with "objects" and other "subjects"), which does not exclude any relationship (not even the most improbable),
which is also strengthened by the fact that the message in itself (that which the "subject" is assumed to understand) is not limited by its contents because it has been emptied of it and reformulated into a representation of a subject area.
Perhaps this can be expressed in the following way:
Man as a "subject" holds a position to the "object" via his pre-understanding. At the same time, the "subject" is a product of the "subject's" relation to the "objects" that in turn are dependent upon other "subjects". The individual can not understand himself as a "subject", just as the "object" is not an "object" in its own right. The question of when, where and how the "object" meets the "subject" dissolves because it becomes impossible to determine whether it is actually the sender's message that determines the receiver's understanding, or whether the receiver's understanding is a result of other senders' simultaneous messages, or whether the receiver's understanding is a question of memories, or whether the receiver's understanding is a conglomerate of statements that the receiver has received over a long period of time and combined into an understanding and so forth and so forth.
Thus it is impossible to delimit the "subjective" sudden experience of understanding - "information" - from everything else that takes place around man and goes on in man's thoughts. This set of problems may perhaps be illustrated by the following model (it must be said here that it is only with great distaste that I attempt to describe what is being discussed here with a model, as I suspect that this model - like the sender/receiver model - is also of such a general nature that one can wonder whether it says anything at all; it should be emphasised however that the model's purpose is only to carry the reasoning in the text forward, not to present a new subject-defining metaphor):
The above model is thus an attempt on the one hand to describe how the "world of the object" and the "world of the subject" flow into one another (i.e. the point's non-existence) and on the other to illustrate that it is problematic to delimit an "object" from other "objects" in the "world of objects" and to delimit a specific mental process (of the kind of a sudden experience of understanding - "information") from all other mental processes and structures that are assumed to exist in the "subject's world".
This way of looking at the "subject/object relationship" excludes the possibility of being able to identify a straightforward relationship between the "object" and the "subject" even when such a relationship is intuitively experienced as obvious. Conclusions on relationships require that it is possible to precisely name the units that are assumed to have meaning for the relationships. The above model includes no such units. It follows from this that no one can claim with certainty that a certain statement leads to a certain individual understanding.
and it is not possible to establish the way in which the receiver (the "subject") receives and treats the sender's statement (the "object") in relation to his/her understanding and knowledge (i.e. what is activated in the person's understanding),
then neither is it possible to establish whether the "subject" and the "object" have anything to do with one another at all (even if and when it is probable that such a relationship exists).
The "subject", however, cannot be discovered by empirical studies in the same way as the "object" can. Here we more often find studies that are indirect in a double sense or reasoning and that are based on abstract theoretical assumptions.
"Indirect in a double sense" means that the "subject" cannot be detected in itself. Instead, the researcher is forced to draw conclusions about the "subject" by studying "objects". This takes place on the assumption that the "subject" has the ability to "objectify" himself (in other words, thought can be studied by its perceptible expressions such as texts, pictures, catalogue systems, computer programs, urban architecture, furrows and so on as well as all other physical and social existing "materia" such as speech social hierarchies, human interaction and so on that are processed through the minds of men). To come closer to the "subject's objectifications", however, the researcher must use his pre-understanding and his "tool-making" in the same way as in all other research. This is the reason for the term "in a double sense".
As the "subject" cannot be investigated in itself but only through its "objectifications", one finds in the study of the "subject's objectifications" many of the methodological processes that characterise the study of "objects". The indirect study in a double sense of the "subject" includes so to speak the simple indirect study of the "object". Two extremes can be identified:
First: Here is research (e.g. certain cognitive psychologies) that more or less has its starting point in the experiment. This covers all the studies that are based on exposing individuals to specific signals (pictures, texts etc.), at which the researcher draws conclusions about the individuals' reactions to the signals, treatment of the signals, memory of the signals and so on. We speak here of what might be called "echo-effect research", that is, the research studies "what comes back of what has been sent in". This research can of course be criticised from the standpoint that not even the most closely limited experiment can guarantee that the study is not "polluted" by other mental processes than those that were assumed to be participating in it. It can be added that the "information situation" that is conjured up in the experiment is seldom found in "real life". Man's social being prevents him from experiencing signals in the pure concentrated form that is found in the experiment. Every car driver who has driven into a ditch because he has been involved in an interesting conversation or has been trying to calm noisy children can confirm this. The findings produced by experiments of this type, however interesting they may be, are thus only a fraction of what actually happens in the individual's world of thought. The "subject" cannot be revealed in this way simply because the "subject" is more than what the experiment succeeds in conjuring up.
Second: This is research whose purpose is to describe and chart the being of groups in a more or less anthropologic respect in order to draw conclusions about what characterises the thought of the members of the group. Here I mean for example phenomenography in pedagogy, reception research in comparative literature and Bourdieu's studies of habitus and symbolic capital. In other words, it is research whose ambition is to deduce human thought by attempting to describe recurring patterns and value judgements but that can actually not be said to reflect the "subject" in itself (if the "subject" actually exists in itself). It should be seen only as an attempt to describe the "subject's objectified shadow" since the "subject" does not exist in a collective sense even if the "collective" context is necessary for the "subject's" being (that is, if the "subject" does exist). In plain language, the observations and conclusions that the study of a specific group can lead to do not in any way need to coincide with what the "subject" actually is (that is, if the "subject" exists), and these observations and conclusions are often a product of the observer's (researcher's) pre-understanding and "tool-making" that often stem from a theoretic education (see the following paragraph).
The formulation "reasoning that is based on abstract theoretical assumptions" alludes to the tendency of research on the "subject" to become so abstract that it doesn't actually need any empirical roots. The theory in itself is its method and purpose. Here I mean, in themselves reasonable but equally unconfirmed, abstract assumptions that give man (the researcher) the possibility to linguistically handle the un-researchable (the "subject") and to organise the un-researchable's "objectifications" into patterns that allow us to believe that the un-researchable's unpredictability can be made predictable or at least chimerically understandable. This has to do with the deeply psychological theories of the type formulated by Freud and Jung, philosophy in general (including phenomenology, hermeneutics and language game theory, i.e. what I use as a theoretical basis for this essay) and certain theories developed in more empirically oriented disciplines, such as social anthropologist Levi Strauss' ideas about binary thinking, Bergers Lukman's knowledge sociology and parts of the feministic gender theory. It has to do in other words with research that in itself specifically treats the "subject" (regardless of whether it exists or not) but that can never be tested against an empiricism.
I am thus stating that a relationship can only be had with the "subject" (in spite of cognitive psychological research, pedagogic phenomenography, reception research in comparative literature studies etc.) from more or less reasonable abstract theoretical assumptions. The study of the "object" only examines the "object" even when one assumes that the "object" is an "objectification" of the "subject" at the same time that the "subject" does not reveal itself in itself, not even for itself. The "information process" (in a cognitive channel metaphorical sense) can in other words be seen from his descriptive, empirical "objective" side or from its assumed abstract, theoretical "subjective" side, although never at the same time and never in such a way that one can study the "object's" significance for the "subject" and vice versa (even if we intuitively feel that the "object" and the "subject" are significant for one another).
in contrast with the "world of the subject", which can be studied only indirectly in a double sense, i.e. the researcher is forced to carry out more or less focused descriptive empirical investigations of the "world of the object" (that are dependent on the researcher's pre-understanding and "tool-making") in order to be able to make assumptions about the "world of the subject" (assumptions that are also of course dependent on the researcher's pre-understanding and "tool-making"), but which study can hardly claim to describe the "subject" in itself (that is, if the "subject" exists), or the researcher completely ignores the empirical and instead starts from an abstract theory that naturally more specifically treats the "subject" and can be used to organise empiricisms in such a way that the empiricism appears to confirm the assumptions about the "subject" but that can not be tested,
one can question whether it is possible at all to find an overall methodology or theory that at the same time and to the same great extent establishes what exists before the non-existent point (i.e. the "object") and what exists after the non-existent point (i.e. the "subject") because the "object" and the "subject" exist in two different "dimensions".
Such a procedure cannot be criticised in a simple way, however. One need only refer to the triviality problem (see the section "The Triviality Problem"). If one introduces a metaphor for holism into the model, then one introduces everything into it. Is it then possible to exclude anything at all? (Furthermore this is extra problematic since people who know about information and the library do not have a relationship to the statements in terms of their contents but as more or less large units of statements that can be relevant (i.e. as representations of subjects) - the risk for triviality exists even before holism is introduced into the model.)
However, the above criticism is altogether too cheap. In spite of everything it requires that there is a point at which the "object" meets the "subject".
If one means by information a process that stretches from the sender's message to the receiver's understanding (including feedback, barriers and intermediaries) - at the same time that consideration is taken to the fact that the point at which the "subject" and the "object" meet does not exist, because the "subject" and the "object" cannot be delimited; that the point, if it in any case had existed, would not have been possible to describe in general terms without becoming trivial, because neither the "subject" nor the "object" are neutral toward the "meeting" (which is thus problematic since people who know about information and the library do not have a relationship with the statements in terms of their contents but as more or less large units of statements that can be relevant); that there is no identifiable obvious connection between the message that the "object" can be assumed to contain and the understanding that the "subject" obtains, and the "world of the subject" and the "world of the object" can never be studied at the same time with the same method and theory - then the conclusion is that no holistic perspective in the world would succeed in pulling together the sender-receiver model in its cognitive channel metaphoric interpretation.
The problem is not a question of introducing a greater number of elements (holism) into the sender/receiver model; the problem is that the cognitive channel metaphor combines two elements, i.e. the empirical study of physical management and organisation of statements in recorded form (i.e. "objects") and abstract theoretical assumptions about mental processes (i.e. "subjects) that can not be united in one and the same explanatory model. It is not possible to draw conclusions about the "subject" himself from the "object" and the "subject's objectifications", and it is definitely not possible to draw any conclusions about the "subject" through the "subject" itself (that is, if the "subject" exists). Expanding library and information sciences' cognitive channel metaphor with new empirical discourses or with new theory about the structure of thought does not solve the problem.
If the sender/receiver model's problem is viewed in this way, one is forced to abandon the ambition of solving the inherent dilemma of the subject definition inspired by the cognitive channel metaphor by expanding the model in a holistic direction. One is then forced to accept that the point at which the "object" meets the "subject" does not exist and that the "object's" significance for the "subject" can not be discovered. In other words, one is forced to abandon the thought that the subject of library and information sciences is equal to the study of an "information process" that simultaneously includes the handling of statements in recorded form ("objects") and the receiver's understanding of the statements (the "subject").
because it actually has to do with the question of whether the "subject" and the "object" can be studied at the same and/or as a consequence of each other,
which can not be done (as the study of "objects" and the study of "subjects" so to speak exist in two different dimensions that do not meet in any obvious way),
which in turn leads to the conclusion that one should abandon the cognitive channel metaphor as a subject-determining starting point.
Library and information service organisations
01 Library and Information services' professions
02 Library history
03 Publisher and publication activities
20 Methodology (the science of doing research)
30 Self-analysis (analysis of library science and informatics as disciplines)
40 Research on library and information services
41 Research on borrowing and distance loan activities
42 Research on document collections
43 Research on information service and counselling
44 Research on user education
45 Research on indoor areas and buildings
46 Research on administration and planning (including management, financing)
47 Research and computerisation (except as regards research on the computerisation of some special function)
48 Research on other library and information activities (reach out library activities and the like)
49 Research that views many sectors together
50 Research on storage and recovery of information
51 Research on cataloguing
52 Research on classification and indexing (processes and languages)
53 Research on information recovery
54 Research on reference databases and bibliographies
55 Research on other databases
60 Research on information searches
61 Research on information dissemination
62 Research on users and uses of information channels/sources
63 Research on users and uses of libraries and information services (not including other channels)
64 Research on information habits (personal individual)
65 Research on use of information
66 Research on the administration of information (information management, IRM, systems)
70 Research on scientific communication
71 Scientific publishing
72 Research on quoting practices and structures
73 Research procurement between sciences and non-scientific audiences
74 Other research on scientific communication (usually network studies)
80 Other research in library science and informatics
81 Role of society
82 Other research
90 Research that does not belong to library science and informatics
The person who reads through this taxonomy finds that the receiver's understanding (the "subject") is not at all the most important investigation area in library and information sciences. What possibly exists would probably be found under titles 6.1 to 6.6 (headings that according to the authors include about 20% of all studies done in the subject in Scandinavia between the years 1965 and 1989). However, if one goes through the research that has been placed in these categories, one finds that very little, or nothing at all, can be characterised as a detailed study of the "subject's" understanding of the "object" from the perspective of the "subject" (which is not surprising since it can not be done). What comes closest to it has instead to do with research on who uses and how they use different "information channels/sources", libraries and "information services", individuals' (representing something, e.g. journalists or the public) "information habits" and use of "information".
The fact is that it is difficult even in an international perspective to find scientific efforts in library and information sciences that attempt to treat the "subject" from the "subject's" perspective. This also applies to researchers such as Carol C. Kuhlthau (6) and Brenda Dervin (7) who have tried of course to study the so called receiver or user, but who chiefly study their behaviour and attitudes toward "information situation(s)", and not human thought in itself.
The conclusion is that researchers in library and information science have already solved the problem such that they decline to a great extent from either examining in any detail what the non-existent point symbolises or completely ignore the "subject's" understanding in itself. One so to speak abandons the mental side of the information concept, thereby dissolving the problem in everyday research. Still it is, in my opinion, obvious that the cognitive channel metaphor plays a meaningful subject-defining role for many researchers in library and information sciences. Why?
At the same time, in reality, researchers in the area of library and information science decline from studying the "object's" meeting with the "subject" by simply declining to focus on the "world of the subject". Why? One can of course speculate on the reasons. Here I will however point out a possible causal context that may be of significance:
Certainly the area of library and information science is young, but during its short existence there has been quite a fiery paradigmatic dispute about its orientation. This is not least noticeable in what the area is called (8). Should it be called library science or library research or library and information science or information and library science or library and information research or information and library research or information science or information research? As these proposals indicate, the dispute deals with whether the area is a science or a research area (which is associated with the fact that, in English, the concept of "science" is connected with natural science and the concept of "studies" is linked with the humanities and social sciences) and whether the area should focus on the institution of the library or the process of "information". I will focus on the latter in this section.
As I see it, this difference in opinion must be understood against the background of the development of the education of librarians. It has long been a purely vocational education. To the extent anyone carried out any research at all, interest has foremost been in the library itself and in the profession. During later decades, however, the education has been made increasingly more academic. It has been experienced as more and more important to be a part of the overall national university system. The profession has also expanded. The so called IT revolution has brought about the growth of other types of library-like institutions and services.
Against this background, many have considered it necessary to abandon the institution of the library as a discipline-defining metaphor. The library as a concept is seen as too narrow and vocationally oriented in a world in which academic abstraction is growing in significance all the time. From this perspective, the name "library research" is seen as a "provincial" construction, and it is of course attractive to reformulate the subject so that it becomes the study of something that is considered to exist regardless of its institutional setting, e.g. the cognitive channel metaphoric "information process". The area finds itself so to speak in the same division as history, mathematics and certain types of linguistic sciences, that is together with other discipline definitions that, kindly interpreted, have fairly "general natural boundaries".
This is problematic, however. If we choose the information process in a cognitive channel metaphoric sense to be a discipline-defining metaphor, then we choose a starting point that can neither be studied (the point at which the "subject" meets the "object" does not exist) nor understood from an overall theory ("subject" and "object" exist in two different methodological and theoretical dimensions). A question may be whether this is because the discipline is so immature that we've simply lost our way in our theoretical abstractions. Is the problem that the representatives of the discipline are too unpractised to be able to penetrate the cognitive channel metaphor's metaphysical character? Perhaps!
However, a more believable explanation is the following: The changes in this area, that is the abandonment of the institution of the library as a subject-defining metaphor and adoption of an information process in a cognitive channel metaphoric sense is not the paradigmatic change that some people may think. At first glance it may certainly seem as though the subject is in the process of abandoning a research standpoint that shows an ageing fixation on the library as an institution and a vocational limitation to a new, fresh, academic, process-oriented study. Still, the question remains of whether it instead has to do with elevating one of the library profession's most important virtues - that is, giving the right answer to the library user's question - to the level of a subject-defining metaphor.
What I am insinuating is that those who believe in the cognitive channel metaphor actually haven't succeeded in liberating themselves from the institution of the library and the vocation of librarian. Their focus has instead been on an established and very central part of the profession. Unfortunately, the ambitions of this particular part of the profession are not suitable for elevation to a scientific objective. The individual librarian in his/her experience may certainly consider him/herself to know when his/her answer to the library user's question coincides in some way with it and may believe that this coincidence is the most important aim of the profession (a wise standpoint, I believe), but the connection is not an obvious one for the external observer (the researcher), simply because the point at which the "object" meets the "subject" does not exist.
I believe that the above paradox is so evident that knowledge of it should have had a greater effect than what seems to be the case. I believe that this may have to do with the subject's attempt to become academic not being academic in a true sense. After the burial of an institution-based, vocationally oriented, subject-defining metaphor, i.e. the "library", there has been the revival of another, like the Phoenix, in a metaphysical, process-oriented, cognitive, but equally vocationally oriented, "give-the-right-answer-to-the-question" definition of the discipline.
at the same time, studies like this are not made in reality (because it simply isn't possible), and
We observe a conversation. Let's say that the first is the one who is listening for the moment and the second is the one that is talking. For this conversation to be meaningful, the first one must assume that he/she can understand the other (or at least understand enough that he/she can pretend to understand what the second one is saying, decide not to care about what the second one is saying or realise that he/she does not understand what the second one is saying) at the same time that the second one must assume that the first has a reasonable chance of understanding in some way what he/she is saying. (Both of course see themselves at the same time as the first one ("subject") who can understand the second one's ("object") statements ("objects") and as the second one ("subject") who can produce a statement ("object") that can be understood by the first one ("object"). However, I have chosen here to artificially present a situation in which the one only listens and the other only talks, despite the fact that I am well aware that these roles change and that it is this alternation that makes it possible for those involved to confirm for themselves that the communication has been successful.)
In an everyday situation, this works very well for the first one. Most people have built up experience that makes it possible for them to instinctively say whether the communication between him or herself (in his/her capacity of being the first one) and the second one works. On the other hand, the first one can very seldom (or never) report when and how he/she learned a specific thing. The first one has, so to speak, his/her own insight into what he/she understands and can confirm that the conversation works, but can not report precisely how that came about.
In the same way, the second one can decide how his/her thoughts shall be expressed in words. He/she also has his/her own insight into what he/she says, even if he/she can not state what he/she actually did. However, it is much more difficult for the second one to determine whether the first one understands the second one's message. Still, because the second one is included in an actual conversation (and because the first one and the second one alternate roles with one another as the first one and the second one), the second one can make certain immediate assumptions about whether his/her message is being registered.
The following conclusion can be drawn: From the first one's and the second one's perspective, it is obvious, not to say a vital hypothesis, that the "subject" can "read" the "object" (and that it is possible to produce "objectified" statements). At the same time, it is almost hopeless for both the first one and the second one to describe what goes on when the "subject" "reads" the "object". The "subject" has no easily articulated direct access to himself and can thus not determine what happens with himself, even if it many times feels like this is the case. Neither does the "subject" have access to anyone else's "subject".
For the third one, that is the outsider who is not actually participating in the communication between the first one and the second one but who observes the first and the second, this problem is even worse. From his/her perspective, it is very possible to observe a conversation as a communication between a first one ("subject") who understands a second one's statement ("object") in accordance with the cognitive channel metaphor. However, in this situation, what happens is what I tried to describe earlier. The third one can only get at the first one's "subject" (and the second one's as well) by indirect studies in a double meaning (see section "Two Dimensions"). In other words, the third one can not, like the first or the second one, react immediately and intuitively to what is going on in the conversation in which the first and the second are actively taking part. Instead, the third is forced to try to take a detour via e.g. abstract psychoanalytic theory, anthropological/sociological studies of group behaviour or cognitive psychological experiments (see section "Two Dimensions"), which the first and the second ones are also forced to do if they wish to report what "actually" happened when they themselves as "subjects" met the worlds of the "objects".
The crux is that the person (in this case, the researcher) is at the same time the first one, the second one and the third one. This is why one can easily assume that one's experience as the first and the second also apply when one takes the role of the third. This is understandable when you think that the researcher only incompletely and with great artificiality succeeds in transforming himself into the third (by using different investigation methods, scientific theories, self-analysis etc.).
In the area of library and information science, however, it can be asked whether researchers have been particular successful in developing a strategy for artificially transforming themselves into the third one. I mean that, through the cognitive channel metaphor, the relation between the first and the second has certainly be placed in the foreground, but this has not been done in such a way that the relation has been elevated to an actual study object (the lack of a point at which the "subject" meets the "object" makes this impossible) but rather the subject's "ideological" goal, i.e. that library and information science shall cooperate so that the stream of information from the second one (the sender) to the first (the receiver) shall take place in as effective a way as possible (both in a physical and a mental sense). Thereby the researcher places himself in the position of the second one to the extent that he/she will cooperate toward the first one's availability to statements ("objects") through the second one, which the first one is expected to understand (as the "subject"), and that the second one shall be able to determine whether the communication works. The researcher with a cognitive orientation has in other words not succeeded in liberating himself from his professional library responsibility as the second one.
at the same time that the third one, the outsider, can not be a part of the first and the second ones' somewhat more immediate understanding of what is to be understood,
but must instead use other experience as his starting point (such as abstract psychoanalytical theory, anthropological/sociological studies of group behaviour or cognitive psychological experiments),
and, if one mixes these three levels up, it is easy to formulate a research goal that fulfils the everyday illusion about the first one's and the second one's ability to understand (as an example, the cognitive channel metaphor) but that can not be examined from the perspective of the third one.
II. General assumptions about what the non-existent point symbolises become trivial (which, as has been said, is especially problematic since in library and information science there is already a high trivialization level because its professionals decline from taking a position toward the contents of a statement in itself but instead observe statements as more or less large units of statements that can be relevant).
III. The assumption that there is a simple relationship between the message ("object") and the individual's understanding ("subject") is impossible to empirically examine.
IV. The "subject" and the "object" exist in different methodological and theoretical dimensions.
B. In the actual research in the area, the problem is solved by declining to try to examine the "object's" meeting with the "subject" through the perspective of the "subject" (which is in any case not possible). However, it does not mean that these researchers always decline from using the cognitive channel metaphor as a subject-defining starting point.
C. It is probable that the focus on the cognitive channel metaphor has to do with the elevation of (legitimate) professional ambitions in the practical field to make them the lodestar of the discipline, even though this causes difficult analytical dilemmas.
Can this be done? I would rather not involve myself in such a project since no one would accept the suggestion presented anyway. Instead I'll give some ideas about how I might proceed, not in order to present a new subject-defining metaphor but to challenge others to make peace with the cognitive channel metaphor. I want thus to present my own shortcomings so that others, in their criticism of my ideas, will be able to move further toward their own liberation. I would make the following considerations:
First (see observations I and IV): If the point at which the "object" meets the "subject" does not exist, then is it impossible to establish anything definite about the "object's" significance for the "subject"? In other words, the study of a piece of information (defined as a process that contains a physical flow of statements (in recorded form) and includes the understanding of the receiver) becomes unreasonable owing to its own inherently two-dimensional character. The question is then: If this information process is impossible to study, what remains? As I see it, the discipline can choose between two different paths:
Thus the subject-defining starting point should include both a structural level (the institutions that are to be studied) and a process level (i.e. that which takes place in and in connection with the institutions that are studied). This does not mean a return to elevating the l
In a recently published Swedish licenciate thesis in the subject of computing science the author chooses to describe the concept of information that forms the basis for (library and) information science in the following way:
The discipline of library and information science has (according to the argument presented here) its starting point in the institutions that are focused upon (libraries, archives, internet etc.) that in turn are focused upon because they represent certain similar types of activities (in this case, certain types of more or less logistic management of certain types of statements in recorded form) and work to form the institution-based structures (back in other words to the hermeneutic spiral).
Secondly (see observation II): The cognitive channel metaphor's focus on the individual's understanding (the "subject") implies that the research opens itself to a study of everything, as everything can be significant for the understanding. What in a person's world of experience can be excluded? What contexts that form the foundation of the individual's world of experience can be excluded? What contexts that underlie the contexts that form the foundation of the individual world of experience are uninteresting? This applies both in the study of an individual "subject" (an individual person) and in the study of the "subject's" nature (i.e. the assumptions on the general position of a "subject" toward the world around him).
A subject definition that has its starting point in the institution-based structures and processes typical for these structures that are actually studied (and the interaction of these institution-based structures and processes typical for them with other institution-based structures and processes typical for these) solves the trivialization problem, at least in part. By examining institutionally limited contexts, one also ranks what should be considered important for the studies. Everything is of course still important, but the researcher refrains from studying the contexts that lie outside what is empirically available. In this case it is particularly important that the statements (in recorded form) are not understood as statements that characterise the conversation, i.e. that the contents in themselves are what is important. It has instead to do with statements that are understood as (more or less large) units of statements that can be relevant. It is unusual for librarians and "information specialists" to take the role of explaining and determining the value of the contents of statements (even though this can happen). Other professional groups have taken this role, such as journalists, teachers, theologians etc.
In this way, the area of library and information science is given a stricter limitation (the subject-defining metaphor does not express the thought that everything is significant in the way that the cognitive channel metaphor indicates) and, paradoxically enough, becomes easier to expand (since it isn't possible to expand everything) in such a way that research can enlarge the discipline by adding acceptable studies of other, as yet unstudied, institution-based structures with processes typical for them.
Thirdly (see observation III): The cognitive channel metaphor's impossible thought construction, that there is an observable relation between the "object's" message and the "subject's" understanding, is automatically abandoned by the introduction of a subject definition that has its starting point in the institution-based structures and the processes typical for them that are actually studied (as well as the interaction between these institution-based structures and processes typical for them with other institution-based structures and processes typical for those structures). This takes place when the individual perspective as the "subject/object relation" is abandoned. Instead the individual is transformed into an actor who represents the structure(s) and the process(es) with which he/she is assumed to be associated. People become researchers, teachers, readers of fiction and so on. The study of man's relationship with the institution-based structures and the processes typical for them and with the statements (in recorded form) that are conveyed through these structures and processes in other words becomes a question of behaviour, standpoint and attitudes (typical or atypical for the group(s) he/she represents) instead of a question of whether they have attained new understanding in a cognitive channel metaphoric sense. The understanding (the "subject") is not then the goal of research but the "object" and the "subject's objectification".
In summary: as the "object's" meeting with the "subject" can not be studied in a cognitive channel metaphoric sense and because the abstract theoretical assumption about the "subject's" character will not constitute the starting point for research in the area of library and information science, then
the triviality problem will in part solve itself since the discipline does not need to take consideration to everything in the same way as when the focus is on individual understanding (it is accepted, for example, that statements are seen as more or less large units that can be relevant), and
the impossible assumption that there is an obviously observable relationship between the "object's" message and the "subject's" understanding is abandoned.
However, the question remains whether a subject definition founded in certain institution-based structures, that is libraries, archives, internet and so on, and deriving from certain processes typical for these structures and the interaction of these institution-based structures and processes typical for these structures with other institution-based structures and processes typical for them (e.g. the research world, schools, the general population etc.), actually leads to a kind of thinking that rejects the simple sender/receiver model, that takes consideration to the research that is actually done and that makes peace with an altogether too cultivated occupationally associated ambition for usefulness.
The model's most obvious part is of course something that symbolises the specific institution-based structure that is being studied (indeed, everyone is aware that a graphic limitation of this kind never coincides with the "real" institution, but in the world of models, what is typical of the ideal prevails):
The next step is to introduce the process(es) typical for the structure which are characteristic of the institution-based structure. Much can be said about these. These processes can be many and of the most differing kinds - although in this case logistic transferral of certain types of statements (in recorded form) is central - and are also observed as more or less large units of statements that can be relevant. As a result of this, the model contains no symbol for the statements (in recorded form). The statements (seen as more or less large units of statements that can be relevant) are included in the arrows that symbolise the processes typical for the structure.
In the model, the thought is also expressed (with thick arrows) that this type of process, which is typical for a structure (that is, logistic transferral of documents), has much to do with regenerating the process in itself (i.e. the process constantly aims at recreating itself). This is however not the same as unchangeability. The process of course affects (illustrated by the narrow arrows) actors representing other structures and other processes typical for them (e.g. the world of research, publishing etc.) and indeed affects the very structure within which the process exists. All this can be illustrated according to the following:
The structure and the processes typical for it do not bear themselves, however. The structure and the processes are borne by the actors that are a part of the structure. These represent different groups and interests that in turn affect the institution-based structure and the processes typical for the structure and the interaction between the institution-based structure and the processes typical for the structure with other institution-based structures and processes typical for those structures (via their actors). Consequently, the model should also be given a symbol for these actors, representing specific groups and interests:
It must be added that, here, we do not place an institution-based structure in the centre but rather a number of institution-based structures (libraries, information centres, internet etc.) that are characterised by (seen from the perspective of those who represent library and information science) similar processes typical for structures that cooperate and compete with one another and thus in one way or another affect each other's institution-based stru ctures and processes typical for them. This can be described according to the following:
Finally, the model must include something that illustrates that the institution-based structures and the process typical for them which exist at the centre of the model are affected by the actors and interest groups that bear the structures and processes typical for which they exist (i.e. the research world, schools, the general population etc.) and that these also affect one another. The following model results (10):
If one compares the above model with the cognitive channel metaphoric sender/receiver model, one immediately notices the differences:
The processes are not defined as a straight line between one structure and another, but as something that is self-generating within its own structure and also acts to change its own structure, which is the basis for the processes and which is something that affects other contexts than its own.
Individual mental processes are replaced by interactions between structures, processes typical for the structures and actors that represent interest groups in the structures and that have different relationship with the processes. The study of the "subject's" understanding (in an individual sense) is abolished to the advantage of actors' actions and attitudes in relation to structures and processes typical for the structures and the interaction between different structures and processes typical for the structures.
The model is, in contrast to the cognitive channel metaphor, limited in the sense that research is defined by the institution-based structures and processes typical for them that are actually studied but, in this model, these structures and processes can be increased according to need (this also applies of course to the other structures and processes typical for them to which one directs oneself).
The statements (in recorded form) that are proffered are not seen as statements in the sense of conversation but as a number of possibly relevant statements that are included in the processes typical for the structures.
Thus there largely remains nothing of the sender/receiver model's straight-lined cognitive channel metaphor, in spite of the fact that all of its parts remain (the intermediary remains, but in the centre of the model, the sender and receiver remain as actors, structures and processes that have a relation with the actors, structures and processes are in the centre of the model, the transferral of statements in recorded form is included in the processes typical for the structures, even though they are given another, more logistic meaning, feedback and barriers are found where actors, structures and processes are placed with and against one another, although in a much more complex way).
The "subject's" individual understanding of the individual statement (the "object") is not examined, which on the other hand is not possible. Instead we have a model that says that everything acts together with everything but that we by our choice of reference point, that is the structures in the centre of the model, limit the field of research. This can be placed against the cognitive channel metaphoric sender/receiver model that raises everything to equal importance since that which the non-existent point symbolises can be referred to and discerned in everything except the possibility of limitation that a choice of reference point offers.
First: All the types of empirical studies done today will continue to be done. As the cognitive channel metaphoric subject definition has not in practice affected the orientation of empirical research (since the "subject" can not be revealed), this does not present a problem. (And thus also, I refrain completely here from criticising the empirical research that is carried out in the area of library and information science.)
Second: The study of man's relation to the statements (in recorded form) that are conveyed via the institution-based structures and processes typical for them which are focused upon here can be done to the same extent as before, although it must be pointed out that the research very seldom (like today) delves into the study of the "subject's" understanding of individual messages, but rather into actions and attitudes to the great many statements (in recorded form) that are offered, or could be offered, or are not offered.
Third: It can be experienced as confusing, to say the least, to need to take a position toward subject definitions that are unrealistic and whose goal can not be achieved. I believe that a good deal of the research frustration that I think is felt in library and information science has to do with this problem. Research simply does not lead to the results that the cognitive channel metaphor promises. I personally have had the opportunity to follow a number of research projects that had their original purpose in examining the point at which the "object" meets the "subject". In my opinion, this has been a difficult experience for those responsible for the projects. They have little by little been forced to abandon their ambitions, and much time has been wasted. A clarification of the "subject-object relationship's" intellectual limitations would probably have given these researchers a better introduction to research. Of course the research task may be experienced as more boring and ordinary, but there would at least be less frustration at the thought of not knowing what one was doing.
Fourth: A well executed empirical work that de facto assumes an institution-based structure and its typical processes is easy prey to criticism if the results are expressed in a cognitive channel metaphoric form. Empiricisms do not hold for the conclusions that are presented. Here again I have closely followed some studies. The criticism can often be very rough.
Fifth: If one refrains from cognitive channel metaphoric thought, certain types of meta-scientific work will disappear. Here I simply mean work that aims at presenting, developing, revising, examining and criticising (9) the cognitive channel metaphor, often with the intent of describing the subject area. As the point does not exist, there is nothing meaningful in discussing it.
Sixth: The reason that I enter into this debate at all is that I feel that representatives of other disciplines often react in a negative way to library and information science's attempts to define itself via the cognitive channel metaphor. They see library and information science as pretentious and insignificant because their own traditions in their fields have already settled the question of the quasi-positivistic view that the cognitive channel metaphor represents. If the representatives of library and information science refrained from using the cognitive channel metaphor as the basis of their subject definition, the communication with other disciplines would probably become simpler and perhaps improve. It is easier for other disciplines to accept that library and information science is the equivalent of studying a certain field (i.e. the institution-based structures and the processes typical for them that we de facto choose to study) than that it is the equivalent of studying certain general mental processes that other areas have given up the search for (i.e. the point at which the "object" meets the "subject") or have developed more sophisticated ways of getting around (i.e. the non-existent point).
but the gap that now exists between what is actually done in empirical research in library and information science and the impossible research ambition expressed in the cognitive channel metaphor can be bridged,
which hopefully leads to less frustration among researchers in library and information science, less criticism of research results and an easier communication with surrounding research fields.
This can also be expressed in the following way: A subject definition that has its starting point in institution-based structures and processes that are typical for these structures does not necessarily imply a paradigmatic change in the actual empirical research that is done in the field of library and information science. At the same time, it does not exclude changes. The cognitive channel metaphoric subject definition is a hinder in itself to the development of the field, however, because it postulates a paradigmatic ambition that is impossible in itself to realise.
However, this is not the same as saying that the profession would not be able to have usefulness as its overall goal (quite the opposite, it would be unfortunate if the aspect of usefulness were abandoned in such contexts). Neither does a subject definition that originates in institution-based structures and processes typical for them exclude the possibility for individual researchers to try to achieve results that improve individual activities. The difference lies in the fact that the discipline in itself does not need to achieve usefulness.
The general information process thus ceases to be the study object of library and information science because the point does not exist. Instead, research interest focuses on information concepts as they are used in different institution-based structures. The way in which representatives of different institution-based structures use the concept says something about how these representatives view their own institution-based structure and the processes typical for it. This gives research the opportunity to decide whether these institution-based structures and processes typical for them are relevant for research in library and information science.
Furthermore, the empirical use of the word information in itself becomes a possible investigative material that researchers can use to understand the institution-based structures and the processes typical for them that he/she intends to study.
An abstract general information concept with analytical undertones is changed in this way into an empirical term that is used only to reflect the use of the word that is in fashion - and who cares if this use is clever or not? With such a position, the field can even continue to be called information science, if that's what people want.
It follows from this that, on more or less abstract grounds, it is fairly meaningless to, as here, discuss what the discipline should be (and thus I hesitate in this essay to formulate alternative models to the cognitive channel metaphoric subject-defining sender/receiver model). A discipline becomes a discipline when its tradition has grown so large and substantial that it can be described in retro-perspective.
Thus I also believe that the field of library and information science is already a discipline in its own right, because there are a sufficient number of researchers and research reports, but chiefly because there is fairly empirical agreement about what is being studied. The field is as mature as it can be because it has an empirical starting point in certain institution-based structures and processes typical for them. Library and information science is neither more nor less what is studied. The crux is that what is studied does not contain the point at which the "object" meets the "subject" and that what the cognitive channel metaphor postulates is thus metaphysics.
Against this background, it is unreasonable to suggest, as does R. P. Bottle, that there may be a new, large paradigmatic step for the field of library and information science: Information science certainly lacks a unified theoretical structure such as one finds in the natural sciences. We are still awaiting our Linnaeus, our Mendeleyev or even our Keynes . (From the International Encyclopedia of Information and Library Science, under the heading "information science".)
…or as the ? say in their wild tongue: vatéri bre gó fertia semer , which sums up the whole thing.
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