What Kind of Science Can Information Science Be?

Buckland, M (2012)
JASIST, 63, 1

During the 20th century there was a strong desire to develop an information science from librarianship, bibliography, and documentation and in 1968 the American Documentation Institute changed its name to the American Society for Information Science. By the beginning of the 21st century, however, departments of (library and) information science had turned instead towards the social sciences. These programs address a variety of important topics, but they have been less successful in providing a coherent explanation of the nature and scope of the field. Progress can be made towards a coherent, unified view of the roles of archives, libraries, museums, online information services, and related organizations if they are treated as information-providing services. However, such an approach seems significantly incomplete on ordinary understandings of the providing of information. Instead of asking what information science is or what we might wish it to become, we ask instead what kind of field it can be given our assumptions about it.

We approach the question by examining some keywords: science, information, knowledge, and interdisciplinary. We conclude that if information science is concerned with what people know, then it is a form of cultural engagement, and at most, a science of the artificial.

Being scientific involves model-building. Hypotheses and theories are developed to explain and to predict observable phenomena.
As Patrick Wilson put it, we are more and more dependant on “second-hand knowledge” (Wilson, 1983a)

  • Information-as-knowledge for knowledge imparted,what was learned as a result of being informed
  • Information-as-process for becoming informed, for learning
  • Information-as-thing for bits, bytes, books, sounds, images,

Being interdisciplinary is widely considered to be a good thing and sometimes it is.

Enabling people to become better informed (learning, becoming more knowledgeable) is, or should be, the central concern of information studies and information services are, in practice,more directly concerned with knowing about than with knowing how or knowing that. Knowledge in everyday life is belief, is cultural, and is not necessarily well justified or true in any strong sense.