Conference Report


D-Lib Magazine
September 2002

Volume 8 Number 9

ISSN 1082-9873

Emerging Frameworks and Methods: Fourth International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science (CoLIS4)

21 - 25 July 2002, Seattle, Washington


Martha Kellogg Smith
University of Washington
[email protected]

Red Line


The Fourth International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science (CoLIS4), held at the The Information School, University of Washington, Seattle, continued the tradition of the previous three CoLIS conferences, begun in 1991 at the University of Tampere, Finland. CoLIS4 was organized by Washington in cooperation with the Department of Information Studies, Tampere, the Royal School of Library and Information Science in Denmark, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology [1].

As in the previous conferences, CoLIS4 invited papers presenting new research topics and approaches in library and information science (LIS) and, at the same time, encouraged contributors and attendees to step back from the practice and dissemination of their research to assess the current state of LIS as a discipline, from historical, theoretical, philosophical, and empirical perspectives. Held for the first time in North America—significantly at the home of a revitalized and actively expanding LIS program in a technology-rich region—CoLIS4 attracted 120 attendees from 16 countries. Presenters and attendees were mostly LIS researchers from academic institutions and research institutes, as well as a number from the information and technology industries.

Three full days included a keynote address, 17 papers by an international slate of presenters, two panel discussions, and a poster session during an evening reception. The conference was preceded and followed by two days of tutorials and workshops, as well as a doctoral presentation forum. Breakfasts, lunches, coffee breaks, and a banquet at Microsoft Corporation headquarters were provided to give participants ample time to mix informally.

To encourage a spirit of deeper reflection, the organizing committee invited 20-minute paper presentations, each followed by 10 minutes of discussion. (There were no separate, concurrent tracks.) This approach encouraged direct follow-up questions and discussion which carried forward from session to session, providing a satisfying sense of continuity to the overall conference theme of exploring the interaction between conceptual and empirical approaches to LIS.

The expressed goals of CoLIS4 were to:

  • explore the existing and emerging conceptual frameworks and methods of library and information science as a field,
  • encourage discourse about the character and definitions of key concepts in LIS, and
  • examine the position of LIS among parallel contemporary domains and professions likewise concerned with information and information technology, such as computer science, management information systems, and new media and communication studies.

The keynote address by Tom Wilson (University of Sheffield) provided an historical perspective on the philosophical and research frameworks of LIS in the post-World War II period. He traced the changing emphases on the objects of LIS study: definitions of information and documents; information retrieval, relevance, systems, and architectures; information users and behaviors. He raised issues of the relevance of LIS research to real-world information services and practice, and the gradual shift in research approaches from quantitative to qualitative. He concluded by stressing the ongoing need of LIS for cumulative, theory-based, and content-rich bodies of research, meaningful to practitioners and useful to contemporary LIS education.

Themes and questions threaded throughout the conference papers and panels addressed the uniqueness of LIS as a contemporary "intersection of information, technology, people, and society" (CoLIS Proceedings Preface). Papers by Birger Hjørland and by Sanna Talja, Kimmo Tuominen, and Reijo Savolainen directly addressed the essential nature and metatheory of LIS as a field of inquiry by reviewing its theoretical models and epistemological perspectives, such as the information transfer model and socio-cognitive theory. The cognitive grounding of much LIS research was present in Pertti Vakkari's and Mikko Pennanen's study linking university students' concept formation with their search processes and task performances while preparing research proposals, as well as in Peter Ingwersen's analysis of the cognitive conception of document polyrepresentation (multiple ways of representing documents) applied to information retrieval.

A number of papers presented empirically and theoretically derived taxonomies of the fundamental characteristics of information bearers (documents and systems) and information behaviors (both individual and collaborative). These mark a contemporary effort to enumerate and classify the elements that LIS researchers should be examining and with which they should be building systems and generating theory. Nicholas Belkin and Colleen Cool reported on field research with which they are constructing a taxonomy of interactions in information seeking and communication behavior, to be used to inform information system building. Rong Tang presented her taxonomic study of Web searching query patterns and argued for the need to link these to user cognitive operations and search tasks. Linda Cooper explored school children's categorizations and knowledge of information organization in libraries by having them arrange books and topics visually and spatially on "virtual" bookshelves. Kartriina Byström and Preben Hansen proposed a nested typology of the concepts of work tasks, information seeking tasks, and information retrieval tasks as units of analysis for LIS research.

Work task and domain analysis figured importantly in several papers, reflecting a increasing application of information context research approaches. In addition to Byström and Hansen's theoretical study of the concepts of tasks in general, the work reported by researchers at Risø National Laboratory, Denmark (Annelise Mark Pejtersen, Bryan Cleal, Morten Hertzum, Hanne Albrechtsen) demonstrated the application of the Cognitive Work Analysis (CWA) framework used to inform the design of a virtual "collaboratory" used by three European film archives. Birger Hjørland asserted that domain analysis, including the study of the interests, goals, values, and consequences of information use and users in specific subject and work domains, is central to the practice of LIS.

LIS research and evaluation methodologies fell under the same scrutiny and systematization, particularly in the presentations employing multiple and mixed methodologies. Jaana Kekäläinen's and Kalervo Järvelin's proposal for a framework of laboratory information retrieval evaluation measures, applied along with analyses of information seeking and work task contexts, employed just such a mix. Marcia Bates pulled together Bradford's Law of Scattering of decreasingly relevant information sources and three information searching techniques (browsing, directed searching, and following links) to pose the question: what are the optimum searching techniques for the different regions of information concentrations? Jesper Schneider and Pia Borlund applied bibliometric methods (document co-citation, bibliographic coupling, and co-word analysis) to augment manual thesaurus construction and maintenance. Fredrik Åström examined document keyword co-occurrence measurement compared to and then combined with bibliometric co-citation analysis to map LIS concept spaces. Ian Ruthven, Mounia Lalmas, and Keith van Rijsbergen compared system-supplied query expansion terms with interactive user query expansion, incorporating both partial relevance assessment feedback (how relevant is a document) and ostensive relevance feedback (measuring when a document is assessed as relevant over time).

Scheduled in the midst of the presentations were two stimulating panel and audience discussions. The first panel, chaired by Glynn Harmon, explored the current re-positioning of many library and information science schools by renaming themselves to eliminate the "library" word and emphasize the "information" word (as in "School of Information," "Information School," and schools of "Information Studies"). Panelists Marcia Bates, Harry Bruce, Toni Carbo, Keith Belton, and Andrew Dillon presented the reasons for name changes in their own information programs, which include curricular change and expansion beyond a "stereotypical" library focus, broader contemporary theoretical approaches to information, new clientele and markets for information services and professionals, new media formats and delivery models, and new interdisciplinary student and faculty recruitment from crossover fields. Sometimes criticized for over-broadness and ambiguity—and feared by library practitioners who were trained in more traditional library schools—renaming schools both results from and occasions a renewed examination of the definitions and boundaries of the field as a whole and the educational and research missions of individual schools.

Another panel discussion, "The Dark Side of Information Technology," chaired by Victor Rosenberg, focused on the role of LIS in studying and ameliorating the contemporary social impact of technology and of information itself. Panelists Rosenberg, Paul Edwards, and David Levy asked what the social and psychological impact of information and its technologies means for how LIS studies people and collections as parts of information "systems." They suggested that LIS as a discipline is the logical forum for discussing the negative effects of technology and the less healthy aspects of information—its increasing ubiquity and volume, speedy proliferation, and invasive potential—as well as their demonstrated positive potential for applications in education and community-building. Several audience contributors, however, questioned the reality and "hype" of information overload and threats to human psychology and social values, and also reminded the attendees that new technologies and information encourage self-sufficiency and independence in developing countries. (Indeed, the global impact of information science and technologies was a theme of several conference papers, for example, in the studies of Erica Cosijn, Ari Pirkola, Theo Bothma, and Kalervo Järvelin of cross-lingual information access in indigenous languages and in Irene Wormell's study of the global dissemination of national and regional LIS journals by means of informetric analysis and the quantitative study of information flows.)

With re-examination of such a broad range of interests, principles, methodologies, and applications of LIS currently taking place, CoLIS4 was in itself a demonstration of a spontaneous, collaborative "domain analysis." The CoLIS4 goal of providing a forum for just this sort of discussion was well realized.


1. See Bruce, H., et al., eds. Emerging Frameworks and Methods: Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science (CoLIS4), Seattle, Washington, July 21 - 25, 2002. Greenwood Village, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 2002. See also <>.

Copyright 2002 Martha Kellogg Smith

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DOI: 10.1045/september2002-smith