The red thread of information

Publication Date14 Feb 2020
AuthorJenna Hartel
subjectMatterLibrary & information science,Records management & preservation,Document management,Classification & cataloguing,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Scholarly communications/publishing,Information & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information management,Information & communications technology,Internet
The red thread of information
Jenna Hartel
Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
Purpose In The Invisible Substrate of Information Science, a landmark article about the discipline of
information science, Marcia J. Bates wrote that ...weare always looking for the red thread of information in
the social texture of peoples lives(1999a, p. 1048). To sharpen our understanding of information science and to
elaborate Batesidea, the work at hand answers the question: Just what does the red thread of information
Design/methodology/approach Through a close reading of Batesoeuvre and by applying concepts from
the reference literature of information science, nine composite entities that qualify as the red thread of
information are identified, elaborated, and related to existing concepts in the information science literature. In
the spirit of a scientistpoet (White, 1999), several playful metaphors related to the color red are employed.
Findings Batesred thread of information entails: terms, genres, literatures, classification systems, scholarly
communication, information retrieval, information experience, information institutions, and information
policy. This same constellation of phenomena can be found in resonant visions of information science, namely,
domain analysis (Hjørland, 2002), ethnography of infrastructure (Star, 1999), and social epistemology
(Shera, 1968).
Research limitations/implications With the vital vermilion filament in clear view, newcomers can more
easily engage the material, conceptual, and social machinery of information science, and specialists are
reminded of what constitutes information science as a whole. Future researchers and scientistpoets may wish
to supplement the nine composite entities with additional, emergent information phenomena.
Originality/value Though the explication of information science that follows is relatively orthodox and
time-bound, the paper offers an imaginative, accessible, yet technically precise way of understanding the field.
Keywords Information science, Information theory, Marcia J. Bates, Domain analysis,
Ethnography of infrastructure, Social epistemology
Paper type Conceptual paper
To mark its 50th anniversary in 1999, the Journal of the American Society for Information
Science published a special double issue. The guest editor, Marcia J. Bates, introduced and
summarized the auspicious collection of writings as reflecting, debating, predicting, and
celebrating information science (1999b, p. 960). The first part of the double issue was centered
upon the journal, its society, and the future of print. The second part covered paradigms,
models, and methods of information science and opened with a statement by Bates herself,
entitled, The Invisible Substrate of Information Science.Invisible Substrate (for short), aimed to
elucidate the key elements of the information science paradigmin order to ...communicate
it more rapidly and effectively to large numbers of new people, and so that we can continue to
influence the future of information in the 21st century(1999a, p. 1043). The article was well
received and won the JASIS Best Paper award for 2000; has garnered more than 500 citations;
and was nominated as one of the most important information science publications of its
decade. For me personally, Invisible Substrate was a eureka! moment that changed my life;
after reading it I decided to become an information scientist. Key points of the article are as
Information science is one of three meta-disciplines that reside at a conceptual level higher
than conventional academic fields. The three meta-disciplines education, information
science, and journalism play distinct and crucial roles in the production and transmission of
human knowledge. Information science deals with its organization and retrieval in recorded
form; education with its teaching and learning; and journalism with its dissemination to the
public as news. The meta-disciplines are orthogonallysituated in the university and society
The red thread
of information
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 22 April 2019
Revised 19 December 2019
Accepted 29 December 2019
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 76 No. 3, 2020
pp. 647-656
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JD-04-2019-0067

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