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Book Review: Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, Volume 36

Michael Day takes a detailed look at the structure and content of this hardy annual.

The Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (ARIST ) [1] will already be familiar to many readers of Ariadne. It is an important annual publication containing review articles on many topics of relevance to library and information science, published on behalf of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST) [2]. Volume 36 is the first volume to be edited by Blaise Cronin of Indiana University, in succession to Martha Williams who edited ARIST from volumes 11 to 35. One of the most noticeable changes that the new editor has introduced is the use of the American Psychological Association (APA) referencing style, which brings it into line with the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology and many other journals.

Cronin has arranged the chapters in ARIST vol. 36 into five sections. The first of these concerns ‘communication and collaboration’ and the opening chapter is a review of scholarly communication and bibliometrics by Christine Borgman and Jonathan Furner of the University of California, Los Angeles. While bibliometrics has been covered in ARIST before, Borgman and Furner consider that the recent development of electronic scholarly communication means that it is a useful subject to revisit. Their chapter covers topics like link analysis (e.g., Google’s PageRank algorithm [3]) the process of writing and submitting documents, and collaboration. They note (p. 55) that bibliometric studies of collaboration (usually evidenced by the number of co-authors) had often concluded that the amount of collaboration between scholars is growing. Thomas Finholt of the University of Michigan follows up this theme in the following chapter on ‘collaboratories.’ These have been defined by William Wulf [4] as a “… center without walls, in which the nation’s researchers can perform their research without regard to geographical location - interacting with colleagues, accessing instrumentation, sharing data and computational resources, and accessing information in digital libraries.” Finholt first outlines the practical development of selected collaboratories, before discussing some of the lessons learned and the way that they might develop in the future. This chapter is followed by a review of computer-mediated communication (CMC) on the Internet by Susan Herring of Indiana University. She introduces CMC types in terms of their ‘mode,’ e.g. e-mail, discussion lists, etc., and ends her review with a brief look at some current issues, e.g. freedom of expression, anonymity, trust, privacy, etc.

The second section of ARIST volume 36 is about ‘knowledge discovery.’ The opening chapter is a review of organisational knowledge and communities of practice by Elisabeth Davenport and Hazel Hall of Napier University, Edinburgh. Communities of practice are groups of professionals who interact and thereby embody a store of common knowledge (p. 171). The authors identify and describe three domains that have contributed to current concepts of communities of practice: situated learning, distributed cognition and communication studies. The following chapter is on discovering information in context by Paul Solomon of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The author investigates a recent trend in recent information science research to look in more detail at the wider contexts of information discovery, i.e. the interactions of people, technology, and social structures. After an outline of theoretical foundations and a review of some recent research, Solomon concludes his chapter with a consideration of the various ways in which the enhanced understanding of information discovery as a process could be translated into system design.

This chapter is followed by a review of data mining by Gerald Benoît of the University of Kentucky. This chapter supplements older reviews of “Data mining and knowledge discovery” and “Text mining” that appeared in ARIST volumes 32 and 34 [5], [6]. Benoît opens his chapter by noting the terminological confusion that sometimes arises when discussing data mining. He views it as one aspect of the wider subject of knowledge discovery in databases, “emphasising the cleaning, warehousing, mining and interactive visualization of knowledge discovery in databases” (p. 266). The importance of data mining is enhanced by the growing dependence of science on exceptionally large volumes of data, e.g. for genomics or geospatial research. Benoît first outlines some of the main data mining processes and methodologies, emphasising the importance of research activity in cognate fields, e.g. machine learning, artificial intelligence and high-performance computing. The chapter identifies several critical challenges, including problems with data representation and reduction, algorithm design, the inexperience of users, the growing importance of domain-specific applications, and architectures. Benoît notes that the Internet is playing an increasingly important role in data mining, especially in commercial contexts. Many of the examples given in the chapter concern the corporate use of data mining, rather than its role in scientific research. Those interested further in the mining of scientific data could supplement this chapter by referring to the review published in a recent volume of Advances in Computers [7].

Section three concerns ‘Intelligence and strategy.’ The opening chapter is by Philip Davies of the University of Malaya and is entitled “Intelligence, information technology, and information warfare.” This provides a state-of-the-art review of intelligence and information warfare in the context of national security, but its main focus is on the situation in the US, UK and Canada. The chapter covers topics like information warfare, hacking, counterintelligence, and other subjects of relevance to national security. As with some present-day journalism, the frequent - but perhaps inevitable - use of intelligence world jargon (e.g., psyops, HUMINT, WMDs, etc.) sometimes irritates, but the chapter does provide a good introductory overview of this increasingly relevant topic. The following chapter by Pierrette Bergeron and Christine Hillier of the Université de Montréal reviews its commercial equivalent, known as ‘competitive intelligence’ (CI). The authors note that this is part of strategic information management, and that it should “stimulate an organisation’s creativeness, innovativeness, and willingness to change” (pp. 357-8). After a quick review of developments between 1994 and 2000, Bergeron and Hillier outline the general CI process and the analytical techniques used, including benchmarking, patent analysis and bibliometrics. Further sections review CI systems, implementation issues and training. The authors note that formal CI practice is most often found in large organisations, and that there have been few studies made of CI in small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Despite the growing importance of the topic, Bergeron and Hillier concede that much of the current literature contains little of enduring value and that little attention is being paid to understanding CI needs and uses. They conclude that in order to grow, CI “requires the development of sound, multidisciplinary research from which results can be appropriately transferred and applied within training programs and practices” (p. 379).

Section four concerns ‘information theory.’ The opening chapter is by Ian Cornelius of University College Dublin and attempts to answer the question of whether information science has a theory of information. This rather complex chapter looks at understandings of information both in and outside information science (e.g. semiotics and philosophy). Cornelius concludes that information scientists need to be clear as to why they seek a theory of information, reflecting that “until we know what it is that we cannot do without a theory of information, we will be unlikely to get one” (p. 421). The next chapter in this section is on social informatics and is by Steve Sawyer of Pennsylvania State University and Kristin Eschenfelder of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The authors understand social informatics as the research field that focuses on the relationships between information and communications technologies and their wider social contexts. Like many of the other subjects reviewed in this volume of ARIST, this is a very interdisciplinary topic, drawing on perspectives from outside information science, e.g. economics, psychology and sociology. Sawyer and Eschenfelder organise their review of the literature around some of the common findings that arise from social informatics research. The final chapter in this section is a review of ‘intellectual capital’ by Herbert Snyder of Fort Lewis College and Jennifer Burek Pierce of the Catholic University of America. This is a topic of great interest in an era when a large proportion of the value of many companies seems to be based on intangible knowledge assets like trademarks or employee know-how. After some introductory definitions, Snyder and Pierce provide a short history of the concept of intellectual capital, outline approaches to its measurement, and indicate how it is linked with knowledge management.

The final section of the volume concerns “technology and service delivery.” The opening chapter offers a review of digital libraries by Edward Fox of the Virginia Polytechnic University and Shalini Urs of the University of Mysore. This is the first review of digital libraries to be included in ARIST, and the chapter attempts to identify trends and future research directions. The authors note that the development of digital libraries has gone hand-in-hand with technological development, chiefly in terms of computational, networking and presentational technologies, e.g. increases in computing power, database management techniques, multimedia capabilities, the Internet protocols, markup languages, etc. They argue that the “synergistic effects of technologies, along with societal response and support, have helped the emergence, accelerated growth, and continued support of DLs” (p. 507). The chapter also notes that the digital library concept has different meanings for different professional groups, and that DLs have a wide range of stakeholders, including, governments, publishers, educators, librarians, archivists, researchers, etc. For these reasons, digital libraries are difficult to define to everyone’s satisfaction. Further sections of the chapter go into more detail on digital library content (e.g., creation, organisation, resource discovery, etc.), services (e.g., retrieval, usability, etc.), management (e.g., preservation), and - perhaps those most difficult of all to deal with - social, economic and legal issues. These briefly introduce a wide range of issues, including metadata, architectures, interoperability and human factors. The chapter provides a good overview of recent digital library developments, but has its strongest focus on the US context, e.g. the Digital Library Initiative (DLI) projects and the National Science Digital Library (NSDL).

The final chapter is a review of health informatics by Marie Russell of the Victoria University of Wellington and the consultant Michael Brittain. This supplements an older review of health informatics that was published in ARIST in 1994 [8]. Health informatics has (elsewhere) been defined as “the application of IT to the management of health information or the systematic use of data to manage and provide health services” [9]. In this chapter, Russell and Brittain first review health informatics in relation to its wider contexts, including hospital management systems, consumer-health information, electronic medical records, and the support of primary care. They then look in more detail at the implications of evidence-based medicine for health informatics, e.g. the value it places on finding and using up-to-date information. A third section outlines the growing role of the Internet in health provision, particularly for patient information.

ARIST volume 36 is a large volume that is unlikely to be read from cover-to-cover. Instead, readers will probably prefer to consult particular chapters and will then follow up by tracing some of the many resources cited in the text. In total, the volume contains over 2,300 citations, so there is plenty of scope for further reading. It is very hard to generalise from a volume that contains chapters on so many distinct subjects, but I was struck by a couple of things while reading this book. Firstly, that many of the subjects covered were just emerging as a discipline (or sub-discipline) in their own right. Several of the chapters mentioned the existence of new journals and specialised conferences, e.g. for competitive intelligence or digital libraries. In many cases, the recent emergence of topics means that they are often multidisciplinary, drawing not just on traditional information science, but also on subjects like psychology, management, ethnology, and computer science. Secondly, around a quarter of the chapters in this volume had their major focus on the commercial and business use of information. While it may not be sensible to read too much into this, it shows the continuing importance of the business perspective for information science. The volume contains a very useful 61-page index, but there is no cumulative index to other volumes in the series.

ARIST has been criticised in the past for its American bias [10] and dependence on English-language publications [11]. With regard to the former, it is perhaps significant, therefore, to note that nine of the twenty contributors to volume 36 are currently based outside the US; three of these in the UK, two in Canada, the remainder in India, Ireland, Malaysia and New Zealand. The geographical coverage of the chapters varies. For example, the chapter on digital libraries concentrates largely on US initiatives, with an occasional pointer to developments in Europe, Australia and elsewhere. Other chapters - e.g. the reviews of health informatics and intelligence - cover the UK situation in more detail. However, with the important exception of the French-language references in the chapter on competitive intelligence, volume 36 of ARIST still almost exclusively concentrates on English-language publications.

While the volume has been attractively produced, I felt that the numbering of sections might help with navigation. It is also perhaps worth noting that some of the chapters are easier to read than others. I personally found the chapters on communities of practice and information theory to be heavy-going, while some individual sentences elsewhere are difficult to understand, e.g. “the structure of the system and the kinds of actions the system recognizes or permits cut the system off from other systems through, for instance, a lack of congruence of terminology or fit with the activities with other systems” (p. 233). Considering the size of the volume, however, there are very few obvious errors. I noticed a couple of misprints, chiefly inconsistencies in citation styles (e.g. on pp. 261, 388) or in the treatment of diacritics (e.g., the misspelling of Kovács on pp. 543, 573).

The price (and nature) of the volume means that it will not grace the bookshelves of many students, but many of the individual chapters would represent a very good starting point for investigating a new topic of interest. I would particularly recommend the chapters on scholarly communication and bibliometrics, collaboratories, digital libraries, and health informatics. I am sure that many of the other chapters would also be of interest to readers of Ariadne. To sum up, Cronin and his contributors have produced a high-quality volume that is worthy of its predecessors.


  1. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology. Available at: http://www.asis.org/Publications/ARIST/
  2. The American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST). Available at: http://www.asis.org/
  3. Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page, “The anatomy of a large-scale hypertextual Web search engine,” Computer Networks and ISDN Systems, 30(1-7), April 1998, 107-117. Also available at: http://dbpubs.stanford.edu/pub/1998-8
  4. Cited in: Richard T. Kouzes, James D. Myers and William A. Wulf, “Collaboratories: doing science on the Internet,” Computer, 29(8), August 1996, 40-46.
  5. Walter J. Trybula, “Data Mining and Knowledge Discovery,” Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 32, 1997, 197-229.
  6. Walter J. Trybula, “Text mining,” Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 34, 1999, 385-419.
  7. Naren Ramakrishnan and Ananth Y. Grama, “Mining scientific data,” Advances in Computers, 55, 2001, 119-169.
  8. Jennifer MacDougall and J. Michael Brittain, “Health informatics,” Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 29, 1994, 183-217.
  9. J. Michael Brittain, Jennifer MacDougall and Robert Gann, “Health informatics: an overview,” Journal of Documentation, 52(4), 1996, 421-448.
  10. For example: R. T. Bottle, “References for reviews” [letter], Journal of Information Science, 15, 1989, 130.
  11. Maurice B. Line “Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, Vol 35, 2001” [book review], Library Management, 23(67), 2002, 345-346.

Author Details

Michael Day
University of Bath
Email: m.day@ukoln.ac.uk
Web: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/

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Article Title: “Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, Volume 36, 2002”
Author: Michael Day
Publication Date: 30-July-2003
Publication: Ariadne Issue 36
Originating URL: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue36/day-rvw/