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Liveblogging Conferences and the LIS Profession June 7, 2008

Posted by JR Dixey in events@UBC, theory.
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As I’ve liveblogged here at CAIS 2008, typing away at the back of the room, no one has asked me what I was doing (although my fast-running fingers did cause a few fellow members of the audience to glance my way, mid-presentation). Today, after one of the presentations, that changed when someone noticed the screen on the laptop I had been typing on was displaying a blog post.

One of the professors in attendance at the conference asked me if I was blogging the conference, and after I answered yes, wondered aloud whether there were any ethical implications to the practice of immediately sharing online the content of conference presentations (which has become, in the last few years, a common information-sharing practice in both technology and libtech conference circles).

Her question, and the concern behind it, made me wonder whether any changes may be coming to the way information science and LIS researchers communicate with one another, as the phenomenon of liveblogging spreads from technology/libtech conferences to the more theoretical reaches of our profession.

How does liveblogging a conference presentation differ from publishing articles and letters about LIS (or in) LIS publications? If you are a presenter at LIS conferences, what do you think about an LIS student’s notes on your conference presentation being published via an LIS-related blog? If you are an LIS student or scholar, do you think this gives you more access, or faster access, to current theoretical discussions? What effect might this have on the profession as a whole, and on LIS theory in particular? Please feel free to share any thoughts you have about this topic by commenting on this post.

Liveblogging CAIS 2008: Pursuing Wisdom: An Investigation of the Relationship Between the Ancient Religious Concept of Wisdom and the Current Information Literacy Ideal of Critical Thinking June 7, 2008

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Eric S. Nyrose, MLIS University of Alberta; Alberta Bible College

[Please note: These are merely my notes on the presentation, taken live while the presentation was in progress and edited for sense afterwards. They are not a verbatim transcription of the presentation, and any errors are mine. Please contact the researchers directly for more information on their work. — JRD]

Notes on the presentation:

Interdisciplinarity is very interesting to me, because I’ve been to conferences in Biblical scholarship, so I’m going to be really crossing boundaries here. I am going to be talking about the Bible. That probably doesn’t happen in these conferences very often and might not have ever happened before.

I did a research project on the research practices of first-year college students at Alberta Bible College, asking the students whether they used ‘wisdom’ in their searching. That wasn’t an unusual question for these students, because we use wisdom as a term regularly. But in LIS, ‘wisdom’ is not a recognized term.

What’s wisdom got to do with it?

If you look at the etymology of the word ‘philosophy’, there are two roots: “philos” (light) and “love”, so theĀ  meaning of philosophy is “the love of wisdom”. The love of wisdom is so respected that a PhD is the highest degree we convey. So why is ‘wisdom’ not in our vocabulary? Perhaps it is because of the fear of mixing religious with non-religious scholarship. But we do use wisdom as a part of everyday life. Wisdom is all around us (Chicken Soup for the Soul and other “bathroom readers”). But, in formal education, the concept of ‘wisdom’ seems absent.

Wisdom is commonly discussed in a faith-based context. “Wisdom” and “foolishness” come into our discussions with our children; with my own children, I prefer to talk in terms of wisdom and foolishness instead of saying “that was smart” or “that was stupid”. In faith-based education, the idea of wisdom from ancient philosophy, and the idea of critical thinking from contemporary education, seem to be similar.

As I said, my background is Biblical studies. I started with Proverbs, because I call it the “bathroom reader” of the ancient Israelites. Solomon was said to have written more than 3,000 proverbs, or wise sayings. Solomon is said to have promoted a strong tradition of wisdom. A little later, confucius wrote his Analects. Both materialized in the context of faith and addressed morality. But they also addressed life and learning.

First I looked at conceptualized ‘critical thinking’ in LIS and other disciplines, and found that the word ‘wisdom’ wasn’t used anywhere. So I decided to look for synonyms for the concept of wisdom. Then I looked for concepts of critical thinking in both Proverbs (in Hebrew) and Confucius (in English translation).

Perhaps a return to some of these ancient religious ideas may help us to improve our teaching. There is a trend in this direction, including Maxwell (2005), Maxwell and Barnett (2007), Deane-Drummond (2007), and Targowski (2006). We need to change our education so that ‘problems of living’ are part of our teaching, in addition to ‘problems of knowledge’. Deane-Drummond wonders whether wisdom has been discarded because of its connection to religion.

“Religion” may be taught in contemporary education settings, but it is taught within a positivist framework. Christian wisdom is mentioned, usually as it grows out of Jewish wisdom; Buddhist and Islamic wisdom are left out entirely, so I might have to address them later. Confucianism comes up, along with Jewish wisdom.

The concept of critical thinking comes up in LIS, but sometimes it is in a negative capacity:

Undergraduates not capable of critical thinking (Guardia, 1998). Herro (2000), Gibson (1995), Albitz (2007) discuss information literacy and its connection to critical thinking. Critical thinking is broader, more theoretical, but information literacy is required for critical thinking.

I’ll give you a couple of samples of Proverbs and Confucius. I’m a big fan of modern translations, because they didn’t speak in King James Shakespearean English back then, and neither do we. “Through these proverbs, people will receive instruction in discipline, good conduct, and doing what is right, just and fair. .. They will give young people knowledge.” Confucius: “The love of knowledge without love of learning sinks into presumption … Love of uprightness, without love of learning, sinks into harshness…”.

This highlights some of what I found in both sources that are common. We find the following common perspectives:

There are stages of critical thinking. Proverbs talks of those who reject or don’t understand wisdom, and those who accept wisdom and are therefore wise. Confucius wanted his students to desire to learn.

Critical thinking is active and disciplined. Both Confucius and Proverbs promote discipline; both self-discipline and correction from one’s mentor or instructor.

As wisdom grows there is more self-discipline. Wisdom is the acceptance of this discipline. There is also the concept of being with and listening to the right people and listening to their advice. I tell my daughters that all the time: never refuse advice. You don’t have to follow it, but don’t refuse it. You have to evaluate what you hear, think about it, and critically evaluate what you hear. “The prudent carefully consider their steps” (Proverbs 14:15).

It’s the idea of looking at the options and choosing the best one. It doesn’t mean being open to accepting anything, it means being able to make good judgements. Finally, creativity isn’t always brought up in critical thinking; creativity involves going outside of the box, but you don’t have to go outside the box to be creative. Sometimes it is about creatively challenging assumptions. Critical thinkers are aware of their context. Confucius didn’t distinguish between religion and philosophy. Solutions were worked out within a given framework.

Confucius discourages speculation, certainty, inflexibility, and self-absorption (thinking only his ideas are true). Proverbs addresses the mocker, the fool, and the simpleton, which are related to these four ideas.

The benefits of critical thinking/wisdom:

  • empowerment, self-autonomy
  • wisdom will bring a person success
  • balanced recognition of the group as well as individuality

What do we do with all this? We found some interesting things in Proverbs, Confucius, and critical thinking literature. How can all this help us?

Several of the things taught in information literacy are “wise” — but not called “wisdom”. Perhaps they should be. The most significant thought I found is that ancient wisdom calls for the same integration in all of life. It’s not just something for ‘information seeking’ or ‘information literacy’. It’s something that pervades all of life and can inform all of life. Rather than separately looking for ‘wisdom’ in life and ‘critical thinking’ in education, Confucius would call for us to bring these together.

To truly be a wise person, it has to be something you practice in all of your life. Buying groceries is a place for critical thinking. An undergraduate deciding how to spend his never-enough money is also a place for critical thinking. When a student walks past a needy person asking for help, it’s a time to creatively think about how to respond to the homeless.

Timeliness is very important. We know that an information literacy lesson is more effective if the professor brings his class to the library at the moment when they need to start researching a paper, as opposed to having a generalized information literacy session at the start of the school year. Wisdom out of context, critical thinking separated from other contexts, is just as artificial-seeming as the separation of information literacy instruction from the need to start an assignment. Why should a student be taught to think critically while searching for information in the library, and then go out and behave foolishly in the evening? Critical thinking should be taught as something that permeates life.

At Alberta Bible College, we give students integrative assignments. First-year students spend a week living and working at a downtown ministry called Mustard Seed. Second year students work cross-culturally with First Nations people. Third year students continue to do cross-cultural work with people who speak other languages. Fourth year students try to produce a philosophy of where they’re going to “go from here”.

About 1000 years before the common era, Solomon began a wisdom tradition. A few hundred years later, Confucius taught his followers wisdom. Both of these thinkers improved their societies. Today we have rejected this kind of wisdom teaching, which integrates with all areas of life. We need to add to our ‘knowledge’, ‘wisdom’.

Future Research:

A colleague of mine has done a lot of work in transformational learning. I like the idea of transformational literacy. I wonder if ‘critical thinking’ is broadened to ‘wisdom’, perhaps ‘information literacy’ can become ‘transformational literacy’.

Question from the Audience: I would have defined wisdom as ‘discernment’ and ‘judgment’ a week ago. Abut a couple of days ago, I was introduce to Confucianism, which introduces the idea of ‘moral judgment’, which we also get from Proverbs. Do you see ‘moral judgment’ as an element of critical thinking? I wonder if that’s where the tension is in bringing the concept of ‘wisdom’ to academia?

Answer: I think so, because of our desire for intellectual freedom, and freedom from religion, which was one of the things people were seeking in the New World. We don’t want to judge anyone’s morality. But I think critical thinking relates to morality, and it might be related to Internet searching. There are some bizarre ideas available out there, and that might relate to morality.

Question from the Moderator: Have you looked at how many universities are teaching critical thinking or ‘wisdom’? We tend to teach information literacy within a silo. We don’t have as a goal that every undergraduate will graduate with information literacy as a toolkit, but they do have writing across the curriculum. So the idea of embedding something across the curriculum is already accepted.

Answer: I’m at a small college, so the faculty all sits down together and talks about how it crosses over. It might just be a factor of size.

Liveblogging CAIS 2008: LIS and Other Knowledge Domains: Interdisciplinarity of LIS Scholars’ Publications June 7, 2008

Posted by JR Dixey in events@UBC.
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Marina Pluzhenskaya, Mount Saint Vincent University (Halifax, NS)

[Please note: These are merely my notes on the presentation, taken live while the presentation was in progress and edited for sense afterwards. They are not a verbatim transcription of the presentation, and any errors are mine. Please contact the researcher directly for more information on his work. — JRD]

Introductory remarks from the Moderator: Her PhD is from the University of Illinois. Her teaching at Mount Saint Vincent has so far encompassed Management Information Systems.

Notes on the presentation:

Interdisciplinarity is a very popular topic right now for researchers. It’s not new; but disciplines go through different stages. sometimes they want to “socialize”, sometimes they want to reflect in themselves. Since the late 1960s we have been going through a stage of introspection.

Researchers often talk thinking they are talking about the same thing, so I’d like to start with a definition. Berger writes that a discipline is a ‘specific body of teachable knowledge’ (Berger, 1972). I’d like to talk about the difference between multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity. There is some confusion about this. The majority of authors agree that interdisciplinarity implies a connection between the disciplines.

So why examine LIS interdisciplinarity? We have noted that many presenters here have used or made connections with other disciplines. Sometimes researchers aren’t aware of that fact, but LIS is very, very interdisciplinary. I’d like to present a study to demonstrate what I’m talking about. I’ll start from the beginning.

“A Fairy Tale:

Once upon a time there lived a beautiful maiden named Librairan-Ship. She met a Price Charm-IS and they fell in love. Many times their love has been tried, but, finally, they got married (some LIS scholars called it “perfect marriage”). So they lived happily ever after, right? No — wrong.”

You have heard people talk about the “L-word”, “iSchools”, etc. I’m not judging anything. There were massive discussions in the 1980s about what AND means. Postings on JESSE still include ongoing discussions on the issue of disciplinary self-identification.

Is disciplinary identity important? Yes, because when there are ongoing discussions about the meaning of a discipline, it means that something needs to be clarified about the discipline.

Librarians are known as multidisciplinarians — they have to deal with all knowledge domains. Information science is also interdisciplinary: information is a basic notion; information is ubiquitous. Quoting Capurro and Hjorland, 2003: “Tracing the influence of this term and the very complex net of disciplines connected with it is indeed difficult.”

LIS schools are/were interdisciplinary. Library schools didn’t have PhD’s in the beginning; but as the discipline evolved, they realized that they had to teach management, education, literature, and now there are other, newly relevant disciplines: psychology, philosophy, and communication.

There are many disparate opinions of LIS as a discipline: They include ‘LIS is a meta-discipline’, ‘LIS is an interdisciplinary field of study with strong epistemic connections and other knowledge domains’, ‘LIS lacks its own methodology’, ‘LIS disintegrates as a discipline’, ‘LIS is an importer rather than exporter’, and even ‘It is not a discipline or field of study’.

I have looked at educational units, curricula, publications, etc. to try to determine the extent and character of interdisciplinarity in LIS.

First, I looked at LIS schools’ faculty members: 736 have advanced degrees, in 56 ALA-accredited schools. 463 of them held degrees in LIS (63%). Some have masters’ degrees in LIS and PhDs in other disciplines. The majority of schools have more than 80% of their faculty with PhD’s. What are their knowledge domains? The majority came to LIS from arts and humanities, education, and social sciences. Computer science comes in fourth.

So it looks multidisciplinary. Is it interdisciplinary? The next step is analyzing publishing, because publishing is sometimes the most visible scholary activity. I used citation analysis, via Web of Knowledge, because it crosses disciplines and it’s familiar to LIS scholars.

Limitations: It’s difficult to define the discipline of individual articles. So instead of trying to find a way to come up with perfect sampling, I decided to analyze the publications of all 736 scholars at all library schools. We also know there are many reasons for citing, including self-citing and negative citations. But it doesn’t matter, because in this research, if someone in one discipline cites someone in another disciplines, that’s good enough for my purposes, it means they have some significance that is recognized.

This study covered 11 years, starting in 1995, because that is where things began to change significantly within the LIS discipline.

Stage 1:

Studied all full-time LIS faculty members, 1995-1005.

Stage 2:

Journal Library & Information Science Research, 1994-2004. I traced the disciplines of all the citations.


What disciplines is LIS connected with? What disciplines are cited by LIS, and what disciplines cite LIS? What are the advantages and shortcomings of the process of identifying those connections through citations?

The professions, social sciences, multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary studies, education, communication, and, surprisingly, the basic sciences. The connection between basic sciences and LIS is not very obvious.

The ratio for citations from LIS to other professions, vs. from other professions to LIS, is 8:1 for LIS disciplines, but for references, the ratio is 6:5, very close. LIS cites other disciplines much more frequently than other disciplines cite LIS: it is not reciprocal.

The disciplines most cited by LIS authors [in order of most to least cited] are sociology, education, psychology, medicine, computer science, interdisciplinary, management, government, marketing, and communication. The disciplines which cite LIS most often [in order of most to least citing] are education, psychology, medicine, computer science, marketing, interdisciplinary, communication, and sociology.

So apparently LIS has connections with other disciplines. LIS attracts researchers from a variety of disciplines and there is cross-citing between LIS and other disciplines. Interestingly, LIS cites sociology most often, but sociology borrows from LIS the least. That is interesting and we don’t know why that happens.

LIS is still basically an ‘importer’ of other disciplines’ research. There are connections between disciplines that cite one another, but the limited scope of this study makes it difficult to draw conclusions.

What is the Significance?

LIS professionals are supposed to understand what’s going on with all disciplines. We are supposed to help researchers and educators from every knowledge domain, so we must understand those connections. I believe creating knowledge is important, and we need to understand the cognitive commonalities among the disciplines. LIS schools, as professional schools, must be open to all new trends, so we need to understand what is going on in other knowledge domains that are related to LIS.

Further Research

I would like to add more research, and some subjective data. I’ve been interviewing faculty members for several months now.

Question from the Audience: I found this quite interesting. I’m curious about the table that showed that in 1998 LISR publishing ‘something’ that was of great interest to other disciplines.

Answer: To answer that question, I will have to talk to the authors. Sometimes another discipline will read an LIS publication because they look into it thinking that they might find something interesting in relation to their work, and they discover a wealth of information that is productive for them. Sometimes they know someone within the LIS profession, and that influences them to look into a particular publication.

Question from the Audience: Did you look into indexing of LIS literature, to see whether other disciplines have access to our literature, because LIS is considered a specialized field?

Answer: That is true of many disciplines. When we say “researchers”, they are very, very different — just as students have different learning styles, researchers have research styles. They approach things from their own perspective. Some feel comfortable within their core discipline and they continue to read in depth in their own discipline. Others are more task-oriented, and they might be willing to cross borders more frequently. Some of them are aware that they’re crossing those boundaries, others don’t think this matters.

Question from the Audience: Is it a size issue? How many LIS programs are doing active research, vs. education PhD’s doing active research?

Answer: There are layers and layers of interdisciplinarity. There are gaps between the disciplines. During the period of time I studied, I could not find any publications for some very bright researchers, because they were close to their retirement and not publishing anything further. There are times when we produce knowledge, and there are times when we absorb knowledge. This is not just a problem of interdisciplinarity. The disciplines are interconnected, and sometimes it’s just “pure business”. It’s hard to tell.

Question from the Moderator: Are you planning to see if scholars are searching in the relatively new federated search engines that search across indexes? It might influence their results, especially things like Google Scholar.

Answer: As I’ve interviewed people, I’ve asked them how they decided someone’s research was relevant. Sometimes the brightest researchers in the sciences start thinking, for instance, about education, and they turn into “undergrad students” because their knoweldge of something like educational psychology is very basic.

Liveblogging CAIS 2008: Internet Chat Rooms: Opinions by the Arab Listeners of the BBC June 7, 2008

Posted by JR Dixey in events@UBC.
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Haidar Moukdad, Dalhousie University

[Please note: These are merely my notes on the presentation, taken live while the presentation was in progress and edited for sense afterwards. They are not a verbatim transcription of the presentation, and any errors are mine. Please contact the researcher directly for more information on his work. — JRD]

The BBC forum is a form of public opinion. I’ve been looking into this in terms of politics; it’s also related to freedom of speech across the world. Some people are freer than others in expressing their opinion. People also use these forums as information sources. And if you read newspapers on the Internet, almost all of them provide some option for users to provide feedback on an article. The BBC is a little different, which I’ll talk about.

I’m going to talk about the BBC World Service and specifically the Arabic BBC Service. They are a trusted source in the Arabic world. My topic is specifically about Arabic chat rooms and how listeners to the BBC Arabic service views them.

The BBC forums are specifically related to the BBC radio programmes. The radio programmers ask people for their opinions ahead of the broadcast and then discuss them during the broadcast. The language used is entirely Arabic, including the radio programme itself of course. Listeners are mostly from the Arab world, but through the Internet it can be heard all over the world.

The forum is moderated; if something violates the rules, it will be deleted, if it’s nasty or flaming or anything like that. Typical topics are social, political, entertainment, and so on.

The BBC broadcasts in a large variety of (43) languages. You can see that Arabic is broadcast in both Africa and the Middle East. There is a news feedback forum in each language as well.

Objectives/Research Questions

  • What do Arab listeners of the BBC think of chat rooms and their effects on their societies?
  • For what purposes do these listeners enter these rooms and how do they use them?
  • Are there any differences of opinions based on sex or country of origin?

Of course there are differences in what’s allowed in different regions or countries. The radio programmers ask people for opinions on different topics, so that influences people’s participation in these.


The topic was posed in August of last year. They gave about 1-2 weeks before the radio programme for people to contribute and then they had the programme on air. There were 94 contributions. They’re still there — you can see them, 7 or 8 years later. This was just last year. The contributions are categorized by sex, country, positive and negative opinion. I should say that as you know, there’s no way to tell whether someone is being honest about their sex or their country, but I have to go with what I have there.

The main page of the BBC Arabic website shows what their articles are about. The main topic today, as you can see, is about cigarettes, another is about Jewish minorities in the Arab world, another one is about another topic. Here’s the screen about Internet chat rooms. The description discusses the topic and invites users to contribute what they think. On the left it shows the guidelines for contributions and you can see that the space has been closed for now.

In looking at contributions by country and sex, you can see some are living outside the Arab world. The majority came from male listeners or users of the website (77 vs. 17 female). I also looked at differences between countries regarding their opinions of chat rooms. It’s not really representative, i.e., Bahrain only has one contribution and it’s negative. It’s almost 2:1 negative to positive opinions overall, though.

Males were more than 2:1 negative in their opinion of chat rooms; women were 7:1; more men were neutral than women (7 men, 1 woman). That could be because there were many fewer contributions from women.

I was very curious about this topic. A lot of research has been done in North America on the use of chat rooms; we know in our field that a lot of things have been done about gender in terms of information, communication, design, etc. In the Arab world this hasn’t been explored very much, so it was interesting to find out what they thought, not just by numbers and so on.

As a sample of opinions, a female from Iraq says that she is completely against chat rooms because they damage social values especially if they’re used by people of low moral values. But if it’s used as a civilized source it’s a good thing to have. But no chat rooms.

This is a male from Egypt; he’s all for chat rooms, but they have to be moderated to prevent chaos. This is based on experience of various chat rooms.

MSN had to close chat rooms all over the world because there were a lot of cultural and linguistic problems. You’ll notice that there are filters for certain words, etc., and there are differences even within English in terms of spelling between America and Canada; a word that is legitimate in French might be filtered in America.

This woman from Syria says everything starts at home; if someone behaves at home, they will behave in chat rooms whether they are male or female. Censorship doesn’t make any difference if people are upstanding.

This male from Kuwait says they are useful to meet people from different cultures, but if used for cynical purposes they are destructive.


I had a pretty good idea of what I would encounter because of other topics I’ve explored in this arena before, such as politics. The Internet is very popular in the Arab world, but to a different degree because of access reasons, etc. In some countries they have little access, in some they have a lot. That could reflect either positively or negatively on their opinions. The Arab world is mainly conservative, although there are some more liberal areas. People who have emigrated to other countries might have different opinions as well.

Generally they thought that chatrooms have a detrimental affect on society, on individuals, etc. People are very cautious about that. There is a difference between male and female; more research has to be done to see if there is a correlation between sex and opinion of chat rooms, but from what I could see there is a difference and a higher percentage of women with negative opinions of chat rooms. It could be related to access level to the Internet or familiarity with the use of the Internet compared to male contributors. I would assume the more familiar you get with it the more positive opinion you might hold.

It would be interesting to compare these results to different cultures or different countries, and to see if there is a shift in opinion after someone emigrates or goes to another country.

Question from the audience: Do you have any information about what people think in general of chat rooms?

Answer: It’s a mess. There are some places where it’s nasty, and other places where it’s moderated and more civil. It depends on the subject. Many people use chat rooms to meet people from around the world, they might want to emigrate or meet people from other countries and explore.

Question from the audience: Have you compared this to non-Arab opinions about chat rooms? I’m wondering if all this negativity might be related to people’s behaviour in chat rooms.

Answer: Sometimes the BBC will take the same topic and post it elsewhere. I looked at French and English as well. It seems to me that among English speakers, there was a similar topic and many people had a more positive opinion of chat rooms in general even though they knew the same level of nastiness and chaos exists. It could be because of the openness of the society, or moral issues, etc. English speakers seem to be more positive about it.

Question from the audience: Could cultural factors play a role? In Arabic cultures, as far as I know (and please correct me if I’m wrong here), there tends to be an emphasis, in conversation, on interpersonal relationships, on expressing respect for the person you are speaking to, etc. These non-textual, conversational elements are left out of online/chat discussion.

Answer: Yes, that could be a factor. Arabic cultures tend to be more community focused and have more emphasis on the wellbeing of the group, and that could be a factor as well.

Question from the audience: There seems to be some confusion in the presentation about chat rooms vs. this opinion posting area on the BBC website. I’m not clear on what the statistics apply to, because one chart says “Use of chat rooms…”

Answer: It should say “Opinions about use of chat rooms…” It was a topic about chat rooms that was posted by the BBC. The demographics were for how people answered the question, not whether or not they had used chat rooms themselves. So there is no way to know whether the people answering the question had used chat rooms or not. One person said, “I used one once, I’m never going back”.

Question from the audience: Was this a popular topic on the BBC website?

Answer: It was average, possibly a little below average, in terms of number of forum participants. Political topics, and religion-related topics, tend to have a lot more participation.

Information Organization and Information Interaction in Social Tagging Sites: A Comparative Examination of Interface Features and Functionalities June 7, 2008

Posted by JR Dixey in events@UBC.
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Ali Shiri and Dale Storie, University of Alberta

[Please note: These are merely my notes on the presentation, taken live while the presentation was in progress and edited for sense afterwards. They are not a verbatim transcription of the presentation, and any errors are mine. Please contact the researchers directly for more information on their work. — JRD]

Notes on the presentation:

Social tagging has been referred to by a variety of terms. It’s an area that’s emerging. The process is basically that the users interact with a variety of web resources, whether it’s textual information, multimedia, journals, books, etc., and assigns tags. They could be called tags, terms, keywords, etc. The result of that sort of tagging can be represented in a variety of formats. Tag clouds are one type of representation of tag space and can actually let a user refine or modify their query.

Our study was exploratory, meant to explore, identify and categories interface features and functionalities that social tagging sites offer to allow users to create, contribute, explore and interact with content, particularly tags. Are there any features specifically designed to influence users’ tagging behaviour? What types of tag representation features can we find on the page of a site?

Shiri, ECDL, 2007

We selected 10 tagging sites that were popular, widely used, and include both social bookmarking and social media. 4 selected sites were social media, and 6 were social bookmarking.

We were particularly interested in discovering whether there might be implications for controlled vocabularies.

  • Social media: youtube, myspacetv, bubbleshare, flickr
  • Social bookmarking: delicious, furl, connotea, citeulike, technorati, and backflip

We’re aware that technorati is a ‘blog search engine’ but they use social tagging in a variety of interesting ways.

Analysis Framework

We decided to take an analysis approach rather than a theoretical one. We looked at user tagging features, exploration features, interface layout, and the content type and tagging features provided. Some sites allow tag grouping, browsing popular or recent tags, using system suggested tags, etc. We intentionally used the term ‘exploration’ to cover both browsing and other kinds of interactive searches. The term ‘exploratory search’ has become popular in the literature for information discovery. And page views for browsing might be incorporated right into the home page. And is there any specific pattern, or are there specific features for social media sites as opposed to social bookmarking sites?

To reinforce the idea, tagging is related to informational organization, while tag browsing relates to information interaction.

In terms of tagging features we looked at tagging type (broad or narrow), the number of tags allowed, etc. Social media sites tend to use narrow tagging. A person who shares a video file can only assign tags to that file, for instance.

We found that five sites used preset categories of tags, which is a sort of a shift back to hierarchical structuring of data. Also, not all sites offer multi-word tags, which can be a limitation for those services that don’t offer that sort of facility. Six sites offer recommended tags; we were looking at this from an information organization perspective.

Social media sites tend to use pre-defined categories, while social bookmarking sites tend to use free tagging. Mainly bookmarking sites use multiword tagging; both media and bookmarking use tag recommendations. Connotea and backflip use tag notes, which is interesting because this is like a scope note in a formal data organization system.

Tag bundling and grouping is another shift toward a hierarchical structure; you can group in terms of facets.

Geotagging refers to location based tags, cities, countries, etc. Flickr, delicious, and connotea use this.

YouTube implements predefined categories; it ranges from five to 20 depending on the site. Furl offers topics, which basically means predefined categories; you can see that the tagger can choose any or all of these categories depending on the subject or aboutness of the content or site they are sharing.

This is bubbleshare, a photo sharing service. They have predefined tags, and users are sort of forced to categorize or they are free to tag but there is some behind-the-scenes work to put themm into those categories.

This is a geotagging feature in flickr. Users can assign location-based features. There are metadata elements that have been incorporated into social tagging sites.

Connotea lets users add a tag note to explain tags in more detail.

Looking at the tag browsing features, users can browse by tag, popular, recent, related tags; automatic grouping of tags (flickr only), and delicious and flickr let you browse featured tags. all social bookmarking sites let users browse users’ tags but only Flickr lets users do this on the media tagging sites. Tag clouds which are becoming more popular on PACs, etc. were present on 5 sites.

I’ll talk about automatic grouping and related tags later on.

In terms of information interaction there are different features: tag lists, tag clouds, and individual tags. We’re just focusing on one aspect of this. Examples include featured tags, automatic clustering, browsing users’ tags, browsing posting history (delicious and connotea), allowing people to browse the collaborative intelligence of the users.

CiteULike offers a taglist, a collection of tags for browsing. On delicious users can choose from either popular or recent tags. Connotea uses recently used and related tags (based on automatic clustering). Technorati uses tags, search terms,and predefined categories. Youtube is based on individual tags and they’re based on a description of the actual resource.

Delicious offers an interesting tag cloud; it can be organized alphabetically or by size; red tags are the ones you share with other people. Flickr has a combination of tag clouds by time/popularity. If you put in a term like “turkey” in flickr you can see they’re clustered for disambiguation purposes.

General observations: Delicious and citeulike have the most tags on the homepage; some services make it easier to access tags than other; some tags use tags more for searching, and some more for browsing.

Services with information organization purpose tend to offer more tagging features.

Social tagging focuses on personal, collaborative, and social organization factors. Users tap into collective intelligence using many types of tag interactions, and using both conceptual and visual capacities.

Future research will focus on how controlled vocabularies can be utilized in tagging settings. Some OPACs have LCSH headings in a tag cloud format.

Question from the audience: I was thinking, why haven’t we done this all these years, if users would use index “clouds”? But I think these sites are more entertainment based than information based. Do you really think people will use this to find information?

Answer: I’m doing a literature review now. Some people use browsing rather than searching, and vice versa. I’ve seen mixed results. Some of it is related to web development; tag clouds are a new feature and they can be used nicely. I’ve been working on these projects for the last five years that if you provide categories or faceted browsing, it can be useful. But you’re right, it should be subject to actual user study to see if they would like to use it in a non-entertainment context. But there are lessons that can be learned and applied.

Moderator comment: People say they don’t use tags, but they often do, in studies that I’ve done.

Question from the audience: Who decides what is the ‘important’ way to represent tags? How can you use this in a controlled vocabulary situation when the users are the ones more relied on for determining these features?

Answer: I’m not saying we should be using all these features. But a large percentage of North American libraries are using LCSH. How can we explore using some of these technologies to enhance the use of these systems? There are lessons we can learn from social tagging without changing our subject vocabularies. There are some OPACs that are adding social tagging. It’s not transforming the structure, content or semantics of controlled vocabularies.

Question from the audience: I think 20 or 30 libraries now have integrated LibraryThing seamlessly into their OPACs. People don’t know that it’s LibraryThing.

Answer: You’re right, social tagging is being used in a variety of contexts. University library portals are incorporating social tagging into their features. it’s becoming more popular, but since LT is sort of a classification structure as well … but we haven’t looked at that for this particular study.

Question from the audience: Are we comparing apples and oranges here in using Knowledge Organization terminology to look at something that isn’t search and retrieval? Maybe it’s about interaction, sharing, curiosity, and exploration, that has nothing to do with search and retrieval in their traditional forms. If we’re doing user studies, maybe we should look at what people are doing in their real lives, not just saying ‘how do you find stuff’?

Answer: There are projects looking at re-using controlled vocabularies in a way that’s more suited to the web environment, like using XML. How can we use these strong knowledge structures with a rich semantic structure, like LCSH, with new approaches that might make them more usable and useful? It might be a way to make controlled vocabularies more visible to the users.

Liveblogging CAIS 2008: Approaching Navigational Cues of Web Documents from Relevance Theory and Genre Theory June 7, 2008

Posted by JR Dixey in events@UBC.
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Lei Zhang, PhD Student, UBC SLAIS

[Please note: These are merely my notes on the presentation, taken live while the presentation was in progress and edited for sense afterwards. They are not a verbatim transcription of the presentation, and any errors are mine. Please contact the researchers directly for more information on their work. — JRD]

Web documents have implied navigational difficulties, because of their qualities of unclear part/whole relationships, lack of recognizable document structure, etc.

Relevance Theory:

Sperber and Wilson, Relevance: Communication and Cognition (1986/1995), originally dealing with everyday speech utterances. Applied to grammar, humour, media discourses, politeness, translation, etc.

Cognitive systems have developed to maximize the relevance of input. The greater the cognitive effects, the smaller the processing effort required.

Communicative principal of relevance:

“Utterances convey their own presumption of optimal relevance” — It is at least relevant enough to be worth the audience’s processing effort.

  • what is said -> enriched at the explicit level -> complemented at the implicit level -> understood

[The above is my linear interpretation of a complex circular relationship graphed by the presenter. — JRD]

Relevance Theory and Genre

In RT, expectations of relevance guides the hearer towards meaning; in Genre, stable form/content within a particular community

Research Objective

In real reading situations, people often need to use more than one text or a particular detail text. How are cognitive processes involved? How does web document genre matter, at different levels, and how does genre influence the expectation of relevance? How are expectations of relevance represented as strategies of navigating and its relation with reading? Navigation can be viewed as a communicative behaviour in response to the qualities of a web document.

Unit of Genre?

document component, web document, web page, web site, etc.

Different levels of hierarchical structure contain details and users rarely stick to a single navigational strategy.

Examples of 3 online journals randomly selected. I wondered what the distinct characteristics of the genre? There is genre at the level of components, at the level of the document the components belong to, and at the level of the web page where the document is situated. There are some regularities; these are three different articles on three different journals hosted by three different information services, but all of them have a TOC for the article, at the top, or on the left or right sidebars.

Order of Access and Relevancy

What is the order of access, which is the most relevant one?

  • Details < Document Component < Document < Web Page

[This is my linear representation of a graphic which represented these phenomena as circles within circles, getting progressively larger, with “web page” being the largest circle.]

Which level do readers first attend to? Which do they mostly rely on? Which level motivated people to move a level up or down? Which level is closure?

A particular detail might be within one component or across several components of a document, or across components of multiple documents. I propose an integrated conceptual model. This relates genre, relevance, cognitive processes, and communicative behaviour. How do each of these enter into the comprehension process? Genres are perceived at multiple levels and influence the interpretation of the document space and comprehension of information space. My aim is to expand relevance theory in regard to web documents.

The next step will be an empirical study of the cognitive processes involved in document comprehension, looking at genres at multiple levels, expectations of relevance, and navigation patterns, to apply the explanatory power of relevance theory.

Question from the audience: By genre, do you mean the different levels of a document?

Answer: It can be an article, an abstract, a web page, or a web site. I haven’t identified genre at different levels in the literature. An article can be a genre itself, but the presentation style of the particular journal can be a genre in itself; and an abstract and an article may be included in the same document, but they are both genres. Even in the abstract there is a communicative purpose, so if we’re trying to locate a particular detail it might still be related to the surrounding environment, so I wonder what first comes to the reader? What first influences his comprehension or interpretation of the document?

Question from the moderator: You listed “related articles”, is that a genre too? You had it on one of your slides.

Answer: The representations were selected randomly from different journals. I mentioned that even in these three there are some common characteristics on the level of a web page. There are some common elements.

Comment from the audience: It’s hierarchical, like broader and narrower terms.

Liveblogging CAIS 2008: Assessing a Genre Based Approach to Online Government Information June 7, 2008

Posted by JR Dixey in events@UBC.
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Luanne Freund and Christina Nilsen, UBC SLAIS

[Please note: These are merely my notes on the presentation, taken live while the presentation was in progress and edited for sense afterwards. They are not a verbatim transcription of the presentation, and any errors are mine. Please contact the researchers directly for more information on their work. — JRD]

[Written on the blackboard] “It is a very sad thing that nowadays there is so little useless information.”

Notes on Christina Nilsen’s part of the presentation:

Does anyone know the source of this quote? [Oscar Wilde]

The problem is abundance of information and the difficulty in finding the information we need. Government initiatives have made information available online, and it is generally high quality information, but online information causes another problem — the difficulty of people being able to find what they’re looking for with the huge amount of information available. Most people use standard search services like Google to find government information.

Our project looks at a genre-based approach to metadata.

The first question is, what is “genre”? Most people think of literature when they think of the concept of “genre”. Instead it might be useful to look at genre as “context-specific communicative acts” — functional genre theory looks at genre in organizational settings.

Document genres are not necessarily a form: it’s the communicative act itself that informs the genre; a genre has shared form, purpose and content aspects.

Our interest in genre is in discovering whether genre can help members of the community find information. Because genre is socially constructed, it carries context, and thus can enhance findability. We think the genre approach is specifically useful in the government context.

Government of Canada “type” metadata element, which is optional in the GC metadata standard. It was based on Dublin Core and intended to support resource discovery. It’s defined as the ‘nature or genre of a resource’ and its intent is to help with management of websites as well as helping users to narrow their search for information.

The gc type taxonomy is consistent with DC recommendations in that it uses a controlled vocabulary and an aggregation scheme. More than one type can be applied and types can be post-coordinated. There are fifty different types of documents.

Notes on Luanne Freund’s part of the presentation:

Each type might have an example, for instance “assessment” has a couple of examples and a very brief explanation.

We wanted to find out how the GC type taxonomy is being used, and whether it is useful for people. We used an off-the-shelf webcrawler to crawl a sample of 10,000 gc.ca pages, which is relatively easy to do because we were focusing on a single domain. We found that 22% of pages in our sample had GC type metadata, so there is some use of it. A further 14.5% had a gc.type field, but it was blank. So it was included in the template but just not filled out. 34 of the 50 type values in the GC schema were being used, and the values that weren’t being used at all were very specific genre like music and sound that weren’t likely to be used in this sample anyway. There were also 85 values that weren’t from the type schema, which is fine because you can choose other schema. There was also a fair amount of error in those different values.

There is uneven distribution of gc.type data. In Service Canada there was 100% use of type metadata, so they probably have an information management policy that requires that. Health Canada was 88% and Environment Canada was only 1%.

The top values were:

  • fact sheet
  • home page
  • resource list
  • report
  • media release
  • contact information
  • organizational description
  • text
  • service
  • administrative page

Fact sheets were 10% of the values, the top 10 made up about 60% of the usage. Text is a value in DC but not really reflective of genre, and it’s not a value in the GC scheme because it’s not reflective of content.

It’s an interesting starting point.

Our second study was to look at whether, if we were government document workers, how useful this schema would be. We manually collected a sample of 400 gc.ca documents, using the first 20 results from Google within the gc.ca domain on queries based in the area of health and environment. We used simple queries like “healthy meal plans”, “noise in the workplace”, and “gripe water”.

We immediately ran into consistency issues. We took the first 20 documents, went home and tagged them and met again, and we found that there was almost no overlap. Genre is a socially constructed concept, it’s not a real or clear feature of a document, so the likelihood to reach really high levels of consistency is low in general, but we were really not in the same ballpark.

One reason is the ambiguity in schema, a large number of possible values, and difficulty in determining part/whole relationships. It’s a hierarchical concept, a book, a chapter, are both types of genre but they fit within one another. We had to determine levels of granularity. So we added more detail to disambiguate tags, we added structure to the tags, and we identified groups of related tags. We also reorganized that schema so that there were groups of related tags. I’ve switched to calling them “tags” but it’s still the same thing, genre values. We lumped together different tags to add context. After a few more iterations we had reached a reasonable level of overlap. Once we had that set up, the student researchers classified the documents again.

About 10% of tags were left untagged. A lot of those were lead-in pages. That might need to be added. But in general most of the documents were possible to tag. 66% were tagged with a single value, which implies there is a distinct characterization of those documents. 40% were assigned a sub-genre. 17% were assigned a meta-genre; you can post each “chunk” of a document as a separate document, which has implications for using search engines — if your search result leads you to the references page of a report, that’s not so useful.

There were 34 type values used out of 50. Not the same 34 that we found in the first study, but it was similar. The top ten were:

  • fact sheet
  • resource list
  • reference material
  • report
  • guide
  • media release
  • news publication
  • educational material
  • promotional
  • terminology
  • standard

It was a zipf-like distribution with a long tail.

… Here are some examples. This was “mercury poisoning”. This result was a fact sheet, this was a newsletter, this was a resource list that links to much more in-depth reports and information. The implication is that if we can somehow identify who the searcher is, what their context is, we can promote the genre that might be most useful for them.

Another example, for this query, “safety antenna radiation”, there was a lot of variance in the types of results. This query, “seniors home renovation”, was similarly varied.

What have we learned?

Type metadata is being used in about 1/5 of Government of Canada (gc.ca) web pages

Prevalence of the use of metadata varies by department

The GC type schema is heavily used

A very small number of genres identify the majority of information, but there is a long tail of less common genres. If you’re a proponent of the ‘long tail’, that very specific information can be valuable also. If you want ‘musical notation’, for instance, you really want that specifically, and not other types of documents.

Genre variation occurs within topics and domains, and consistent tagging is difficult to achieve. I’m not that into the idea of manual tagging, so my tendency would be to look towards automated systems to decrease the variation. I’d also like to see it be more robust.

Here’s something to think about: Service Canada is 100% tagged by genre, but on the Service Canada website’s search page, there is no way for visitors to make use of this metadata.

Future work:

Most of all, what we need to do is some user studies. We need to talk to people and see if they care and understand, and if they know what the genres are. The long-term goal would be to develop a genre enabled search engine for government information.

Question from the audience: When you were looking at these, did you find that you generally agreed with how government documents were tagged, or were they tagged kind of lackadaisically because tagging would not be the person’s main focus?

Answer: We found some overlap, but not much. But we found it was complete guesswork ourselves, so I wouldn’t call it lackadaisical. People did sometimes seem to just “throw something in there”.

Comment from Luanne Freund: If you’re interested in genre, the current ASIS&T Bulletin has a section on Genre with a number of articles about it.