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What is information?

Information theorists Shannon and Weaver (1948) believed that “information is the reduction of uncertainty,” and yet, ironically, finding a clear definition of information still seems to stump both researchers and readers of IS. Information has been defined within many disciplines by those who sometimes over-simplify or over-complicate its meaning—nevertheless, IS researchers agree that information is fundamental to all disciplines for communication, and it must therefore be preserved, organized, and easily retrieved (Buckland, 1991; Ratzan, 2004). Information may be described as a representation of a message that is processed into something valuable so that it may be applied in a practical context. This description, however, suggests that the value of information has somehow been previously established. So, how, then, is the value of information determined?

The Value of Information

The value of information is best determined by what Repo calls value-in-use—“a benefit the user obtains from the use and the effect of the use” (1983). Value-in-use is subjective and specific to a user—so the value of information could be defined simply as contingent upon its usefulness to an individual. The value of information therefore is relative to the level of satisfaction directly or indirectly received from an information good, service, or resource.

Consider, for instance, contrasting views of those who receive a stack of 1820s newspapers from a ghost town. The litterbug casually tosses the papers outside—to the litterbug, the papers are trash to be burned. The recycler carefully collects the papers in a bag—to the recycler, the papers are cash to be earned. The librarian gladly accepts the papers from the recycle shop—to the librarian, the papers are documents that must be sorted. The professor delightedly inquires about the papers from the library—to the professor, the papers are history to be reported. The value of information is therefore determined by its user and its intended application.

The Sciences of Information

How, why, what, and where information is applied are questions investigated within the framework of several information studies – a truth that often identifies information science as information sciences. Whether it is appropriate to label the field of IS as singular or plural is another argument (Webber, 2003), however; IS is undeniably interdisciplinary (Machlup and Mansfield, 1983) with problems studied through four major interdisciplinary relations including: cognitive science, communications. computer science, and librarianship (Appendix A) (Saracevic, 1999).

IS as a Meta-discipline

IS enables people to find information—a need based on psychological needs for survival and fulfillment. Finding sought-after information can change human perception by relieving anxiety, fulfilling a goal, realizing a need, or actualizing a concept. IS has dedicated years of research to training people how to find information and thereby enhance problem-solving and decision-making—helping to reduce uncertainty and change an individual’s image of reality (Case, 2002).

Education, mass communications, and philosophy/theology also have distinctive relationships with information. Education is the teaching and learning of information; mass communications is the discovery and transmission of information; philosophy/theology is the search for true information. In fact, IS has application to all disciplines and is therefore more appropriately defined as a meta-disciplinary science (Bates, 1999). After all, IS is concerned with information, a resource (Cleveland, 1982) common to all disciplines and coincidentally, responsible for the creation of bibliometrics, the major quantitative method used to analyze interdisciplinarity among fields (Morillo and Gómez, 2003).

Bibliometrics uses content analysis, a method that includes comparing the frequency (F) of terms between disciplines, for example IS and EM. Content analysis, in this case, becomes a preliminary survey to determine whether researchers have initiated integration within disciplines (Ruben, 1992). A cursory examination of IS and EM journals identifies major terms commonly found in titles of articles in IS and EM from 2002 through July 2005. The IS journals are African Journal of Library, Archives and Information Science, Journal of Human-Computer Studies, Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, Journal of the Society of Archivists, Library & Information Science Research, and International Journal of Human-Computer Studies. The EM journals are Disaster Prevention and Management, Disasters, International Journal of Emergency Management, Journal of Contingencies & Crisis Management, and Natural Hazards Review (Table 3).

Table 3

Frequency (F) of IS/EM Terms in EM/IS Journal Titles 2002-2005

IS terms found in EM Journal Titles


EM Terms found in IS Journal Titles


information (sharing, system, technology)




communication (or coordination
or collaboration or interaction)


emergency or hazard(s)






The infrequency of terms within journal titles indicates that studies of IS and EM have experienced little integration. IS and EM do however, share a substantial interest in the study of disasters in at least two distinct aspects: information disasters and disaster information flow. EM theories may be used to frame information disasters and vulnerabilities while IS theories may be used to study collaborative decisions by identifying patterns of information flow during the phases of a disaster.

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