Meadows, Jack. Understanding information. München, KG Saur, 2001. 112 p. ISBN 3-598-11544-X. EUR 54,00.
Holding a reassuringly thin book written by Jack Meadows and enjoying the feeling of a comfortable format I was still unaware how much pleasure it is to read it. The book is announced as an introduction to the "basic principles of information science" and the main parts of it faithfully hold the headings: Data, Information, Classification, Storage, Retrieval, Communication, Knowledge, Intelligence and wisdom. Something that I've learned, known, read, wrote, or taught to the others for decades. It might look boring to someone who is not fascinated by the ever-changing nature of the subject itself and even greater variety of the approaches to it. On the other hand, the basic texts in the field are rather standardised, with predictable structure and contents. The structure of "Understanding information" does not promise any surprises. However, it is full of them.
First, it is surprising how creatively you can use the dictionary definitions of the words. The trivial approach used by a majority of students unexpectedly proofs to be a source of fun and enlightenment. Second surprise is an expert application of the typical Anglo-Saxon jokes and anecdotes, which I like so much in spoken presentations of English colleagues, in a written format of a book. Third, the explanation of subject and the main categories is deep, strictly academic and precise without being boring or incomprehensible. The whole structure of a book is organic and proceeds from simpler to more complicated subjects. Each element is explained taking into account its complexity and different points of view, illustrated by relevant and amusing examples, related to a normal everyday life and still not loosing professional rigor for the sake of popular understanding.
Personally I appreciate the chapters on classification, storage, and retrieval most of all. These are the topics that are usually left unexplained or are explained in a dry and forbidding manner. Jack Meadows successfully draws parallels between these processes going on in individual mind and on social and professional levels, involving personal natural brain "software" and technology invented by people. The book comprises a whole range of natural, social, economic, and technology factors with a seeming ease and simplicity. Of course, many important and serious issues are just sketched. An attentive and informed reader will wonder what the author had in mind when talking about "the bits of knowledge held by individual members" or why information sifting for relevance (something that special library was doing for ages) becomes knowledge management (p. 95). The usual sequence "data - information - knowledge" (used also in this book) always seemed to me rather confusing and not providing proper understanding of a difference between data and information. This book did not succeed in changing my former attitude, though I enjoyed both chapters. So, in the future I will stick to my preferred explanation of information as a more generic category for a phenomenon that might acquire a variety of forms (data, records, or texts).
However, the book is meant as an introductory text and does not set the goal of solving complicated professional issues. It provides >lively and intriguing possibility for the students in various faculties, for those who start their education as information professionals, and even for the ones in upper high schools. It also can satisfy the curiosity of anyone interested in information matters.
Dr. Elena Macevičiūtė