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Sustained Intellectual Argument :
    Defining Disciplines

The discussions that I found most interesting during the program revolved around the definition of Information Science as a discipline. Is Information Science a discipline distinct from Librarianship? What makes it a science? What exactly is an information professional (and indeed, what separates her from an information worker, if half of all workers in America fit that category-an argument we use when advocating Information Literacy education?)

Part of this questioning, admittedly, stems from an attitude I held before enrolling: why should I return to school if I was functioning as a professional librarian? If I had identical responsibilities and identical duties, what was I to gain? (This question is, of course, separate from the pragmatics of never getting that next promotion). I knew that these discussions were happening-changing curricula, dropping 'library' from the names of schools, and the ALA's CPE were familiar lunchroom topics. I was pleased to find them discussed in classes as well.

Science and Technology Studies

What I did not know before returning to school is that there is an entire discipline devoted to pondering how science gets done-both research and practice. Among these questions:

  • What makes a science?
  • How does scientific knowledge get produced, become accepted as fact, and evolve?
  • What is the distinction between research and practice?
  • How do research laboratories transform their results into products and disseminate them into society at large?

In the winter quarter of 2001, I had the opportunity to contemplate these questions in depth while completing an anthropology elective: Seminar in Cultural Processes: Science and Technology Studies. At the same time, I was taking LIS530 (Organization of Information and Resources) and pondering the intellectual foundations of how we organize information-a topic that I continue to consider at the core of our discipline.

As I saw the parallels between STS and the basic questions of IS, I took on the task of applying a model from Bruno Latour's Pandora's Hope to Information Science. This eventually became the paper which I presented at the conference "From Papyrus to Paperless" in the spring of 2001. A later version of this paper was named "Best Student Paper" by Libri.

I continue to have a strong interest in Science Studies, not only for its application to Information Science, but as a field unto itself. As advanced technologies, from network devices that change the definition of privacy to engineered organisms that change alter the chemistry of the animals we eat, become more a part of everyday life, I find it increasingly important to question why these technologies are what they are. The emerging field of Internet Studies makes these issues a central theme-studying what can be called the sociology or anthropology of a networked culture. To this end I am currently reviewing a book for the Cyber Culture Resource Center, a website housed in the School of Communication here at UW, and hope to continue to forge a relationship with that organization.