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Rice, Ronald E., McCreadie, Maureen M., & Chang, Shan-Ju L. Accessing and browsing information and communication. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001. 357 p. ISBN 0-262-18214-9. 30.95

The first glance at the title of the book made me wander about its possible contents. What does "accessing and browsing" mean in this case? Are the two compared or treated in some other way? Why information and communication, and what does "communication" mean in this case? How can one browse 'the social interaction through messages' (Gerbner, 1967)? Unlike some other cases, it was rather easy to get the answers and satisfy the curiosity by browsing and reading the book, as it was readily accessible. Here are my findings.:

The authors treat accessing and browsing as the aspects of information seeking process. They neither compare, nor juxtapose it, but investigate in depth in two separate projects. Both projects have similar research design and allow the authors to draw certain theoretical implications enriching the understanding of information behaviour and practical implications, mainly for information systems design.

Of course, the authors speak about accessing and browsing information. The communication in the book means mainly messages received through mass media, personal contacts, or from the surrounding environment interpreted by a user, i.e., information. The authors justify the usage of the term "communication" because it means "exchange and creation of meaning through interaction... via a variety of media" and because "information representation and delivery should support the multilevel interaction of social discourse" (p. 2). This allows the introduction of additional aspects into interpretations of the reviewed literature and empirical data in comparison with some earlier research on information seeking and information behaviour, but does not change the essence of the phenomena under research.

Both projects include:

  • a review of related research literature;
  • a description, results, and discussion of a case study;
  • refining of theoretical framework and a summary and implications.

The detailed account of methodology in each project provides a solid basis for checking validity and reliability of the results.

Bringing together and analysing literature from various disciplines in each case broadens and deepens understanding of the concepts of "access" and especially "browsing". At the same time, it was surprising to see that in the first part of the book the authors try to draw borders between the same information behaviour research dividing it between library studies, information science, or information society. No wonder, then, that they end up by referring to the same authors in different parts (Kuhlthau, Dervin, Chatman, Agada).

The empirical part of the first project about accessing information by individuals provides very interesting insights into the problem and reveal the multidimensional character of the process. On the other hand, the complexity of the concept itself (as understood by the authors) and the attempt to take this complexity, as well as the differences in the types and contexts of users, into account limited this study and turned it into very generalised testing of the constructed theoretical framework.

I would have appreciated in this part a wider account of mass communication literature, especially of the user-centred theories of media effects, or disclosing the differences between related "access" and "availability" categories used by communication researchers.

The case study of browsing behaviour reveals an unexpected variety of motives and results of the user's behaviour. Different kinds of browsing, their limits and overlapping with other information seeking behaviour discovered by researchers is justified by rich data and by reviewed literature. The latter includes library user studies, information science, consumer research, audience research, organisational research, and eenvironmental planning and architectural design.

The book is a rigorous and mmethodological academic account of research projects. The reference list includes 567 entries, which reflect a basis for literature reviews and construction of theoretical framework. All this would be interesting to most researchers and students of information behaviour in different disciplines. However, the book is written in a style that would be aaccessible to most information professionals (in the broadest sense).

Reference

Gerbner G. (1967). 'Mass media and human communication theory' In Human communication theory. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. P. 40-57.

Dr. Elena Macevičiūtė
Swedish School of Information and Library Studies
Högskolan i Borås
January 2002