Cronin, B., ed. Annual review of information science and technology. Volume 36. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc., 2002. xxxi, 690,  pp. ISBN 1-57387-131-1 $99.95
ARIST is under new management. After twenty-five years, Martha Williams has stepped down and Blaise Cronin has taken over. The new editor sets out his stall with his customary force: one of his aims is to allow, or rather, encourage, contributors to move away from the 'bibliographic review model' and to allow their own 'voice' to be heard in the chapters. I heartily approve of that aim - while the bibliographic review may serve the purpose of scanning the relevant literature and reporting on trends and discontinuities, it is much more interesting to read a personal view, even if one disagrees with that view. A further change intended is to expand the remit of ARIST into areas that are, perhaps, on the fringe of the field. Given how difficult it is to define 'the field', one can hardly quibble about this. In fact, expanding the coverage of ARIST in this way may help us to define what is and what is not, 'the field'. Having agreed, I nevertheless feel that the inclusion in this volume of chapters on. 'Collaboratories' and 'Intelligence, information technology, and information warfare' is, perhaps, stretching things to breaking point.. The chapter on 'Data mining' could also have appeared in any Annual Review of Computer Science and we are in danger of expanding 'the field' so far as to encompass practically anything that has anything whatsoever to do with 'information' or computers or, indeed, with the inclusion of 'Computer-mediated communication on the Internet', 'communication'.
This still leaves, of course, a majority of chapters that deal with topics that are pretty central to 'information science and technology'. Thus, we have Borgman and Furner on 'Scholarly communication and bibliometrics'; Davenport and Hall on 'Organizational knowledge and communities of practice' (nicely avoiding the dread 'knowledge management', although 'knowledge sharing' is accepted as a possibility); 'Discovering information in context' by Paul Solomon; 'Competitive intelligence' by Bergeron and Hiller; 'Theorizing information for information science' by Ian Cornelius; 'Intellectual capital' by Snyder and Pierce; 'Digital libraries' by Fox and Urs; and 'Health informatics' by Russell and Brittain. I have omitted 'Social informatics: perspectives, examples and trends', because even after reading it I find it impossible to tell whether the subject is sociology, organizational behaviour, information science, or what? The dominant characteristic of this manufactured topic appears to be that it lacks focus entirely and I imagine that its tenuous grasp on our collective consciousness will soon disappear because of that lack of focus.
Of course, the field of 'information science' has always been difficult to define and numerous people have tried to formulate definitions by various means, usually to no one's satisfaction, and the syllabuses of various university departments are of no greater help in fixing the boundaries. This may well be inevitable: as various areas of 'professional' practice become more and more general practice, available as skills for all, the field of 'information science' has become more and more diffuse. As the computer science field became interested in information retrieval, which it had virtually ignored until the appearance of the Web search engine, so the information systems field has become more and more interested in information management, realising that the failure of systems has been the result of failing to pay sufficient attention to the information handled through the technology. Identity, we might say, is in the eye of the beholder: perhaps the true situation is that we are all 'information system' practitioners today. Certainly, attempts to provide information science with the customary trappings of 'science' seem to have failed and, more and more, our attention is on the organizational application of information technology.
This leaves a wide area of what we might call 'the social science of information' and a number of chapters take this perspective on the field. Borgman and Furner's chapter on 'Scholarly communication and bibliometrics' is a case in point. This is an extensive account of recent research in this area - or at least in the area of bibliometrics, since other aspects of scholarly communication are not dealt with. The authors adopt a 'seven facet' classification scheme for bibliometric studies, which is very helpful in structuring the chapter, enabling one to grasp the essentials of specific aspects of bibliometrics very quickly. There is also, as usual in ARIST volumes, an extensive bibliography—the text extends to fifty-five pages and the bibliography a further fourteen.
Paul Solomon's chapter is also related to the social science perspective, dealing, as it does, with information seeking behaviour. Solomon uses 'discovering information' deliberately:
Thus, the discovery of information view presented here characterizes information as being constructed through involvement in life's activities, problems, tasks, and social and technological structures, as opposed to being independent and context free.
This view is probably the current, general perspective—one would find few researchers who would disagree. Indeed the notion that some might consider information as 'independent and context free' strikes me as a little unlikely and something of a straw man. However, that point does not play any further part in the author's treatment of the subject and perhaps we can regard it as simply a rhetorical device. As might be expected, researchers who have contributed to the conference series, Information Seeking in Context, since 1996 figure significantly in Solomon's account. For anyone new to the field, this chapter would be an excellent starting point.
Of the remaining chapters, I found that on 'Intellectual capital' to be an interesting and well-balanced review of competing ideas on the subject, and the chapter on 'Digital libraries', the longest in the volument, to offer a very solid attempt to clear away the fuzziness that surrounds this subject. 'Health informatics' by Russell and Brittain is also an excellent piece of work, although the adoption of the term 'informatics' has something of a faddish ring to it and I'm not quite sure that 'e-health' is an appropriate term for something that includes the Internet, e-mail and 'aspects of telemedicine'.
Blaise Cronin has made a very solid start to his re-thinking the role and functions of the Annual Review and, although I have found things to quibble about, this volume is a very useful account of the state of the art in a number of signifcant areas of the field - however we might define it.
Professor T.D. Wilson
How to cite this review
Wilson, T.D. (2003) Review of: Cronin, B., ed. Annual review of information science and technology. Volume 36. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc., 2002. Information Research, 8(4), review no. R100 [Available at: http://informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs100.html]