Book Review: Introductory Concepts in Information Science

Introductory Concepts in Information Science, by Melanie J Norton
Review info: 

Introductory Concepts in Information Science (2nd Edition). By Melanie J Norton, Information Today, 2010, ISBN 978-1573873949

Charles Oppenheim takes a look at an introduction to Information Science but fails to be impressed.

With a title like that, one would expect a primer, introducing all the key concepts of information science to someone studying the topic for the first time at undergraduate or Masters' level, and possibly for the interested layman. Such a book would be a worthy successor to Chris Hanson's Introduction to Science Information Work, and Roger Meetham's Information Retrieval, both of which were first published about 40 years ago. Sadly, however, this book does not fulfil the promise of its title.

The book comprises 12 chapters, seven of which were written by Norton herself, four by other authors, and one chapter comprises the reproduction of two journal articles. The book starts with a history of information science; however, the discussion of whether information science deserves the name 'science' is spoiled by the failure to mention, even in passing, the key philosopher of science, Karl Popper. It further fails to notice that the first use of the term 'information science' was by Farradane in the 1950s, and the first organisation to have the words in its name was the Institute of Information Scientists, founded in 1958. Instead, it discusses the American Society for Information Science, which adopted that name ten years later. So the history is partial and misleading.

Chapter 3, on communication, is probably the best in the book. Here, Norton provides an interesting analysis of what information is and how it relates to communication. The next chapter, on information retrieval, is a weak one; with no references more recent than 1999, with a description of a 1998 article as 'recent', the average age of the references cited is nearly 25 years old. Furthermore, with a citation to a 1992 edition of Rowley's Organizing Knowledge, when the most recent edition was in 2008, this is an out-of-date chapter lazily recycled.

The next chapter, on indexing, is a poor introduction to the topic, failing as it does to discuss the classic experiments by Cleverdon at Cranfield; more could have been said about how Google goes about indexing the Web. The next chapter, on background to repositories (which means all library collections in this context), has a minor factual error, claiming that the British Library was founded in 1753, when it fact it was founded in 1973. In 1753 the core of the British Museum Library was founded. It ends with a totally irrelevant list of the URLs of a random collection of US libraries.

The next chapter, on digital repositories, is partly based on an unpublished Masters dissertation. This chapter uses 'information' and 'knowledge' interchangeably, repeats itself in places, and also provides a random list of URLs of various repositories. The chapter uses, but fails to explain, the term 'open access'. It also fails to present the arguments for and against Open Access, and fails, moreover, to distinguish the various types of Open Access.

The next chapter, on digital libraries, offers the fascinating, but totally incorrect notion at its start, that Vannevar Bush's proposed Memex was an electronic system (it was a mechanical one using microfilm), and gets the lifetime of copyright wrong at the end; but in between offers a reasonable overview of the topic. Chapter 9, on bibliometrics, has some factual errors (bibliometrics does not encompass qualitative research methods; the Lotka's Law description confuses absolute numbers with percentages). The chapter quotes a 1998 article stating that the Web cannot develop without a good indexing system, failing to notice that a certain company beginning with the letter G does that just fine. The author misunderstands Bradford's Law, claiming that Bradford's results 'only' identified 32% core journals, missing the remaining 68%, when Bradford's whole intention was to split the literature into chunks of a third each. The discussion on following citations over time fails to mention the successful Histcite software and how it works. The next chapter, on economics, fails to discuss the economics of scholarly communication or the concept of Return on Investment for library and information services. The next chapter, on value of information, claims that the Velcro fastener was a result of the NASA programme to reach the moon in the late 1960s, when in fact it was invented in the early 1950s, well before the space race, and not by NASA. This chapter fails to discuss the value and impact of information services, information audits or information resource management. The final chapter, on digital accessibility, did not cover questions of the digital divide or social informatics.

The book fails to mention several key information science themes, such as legal, ethical and regulatory matters; user needs; models of user behaviour; the evaluation of quality of information; or the information professions and how they might develop in the future. All told, this book cannot be recommended. That good basic introduction to information science still waits to be written.

Author Details

Charles Oppenheim
Department of Information Science
Loughborough University

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Date published: 
Saturday, 30 October 2010
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