Mutual good: the value of library and information science research to society
This paper seeks to investigate the value of researching Library and Information Science (LIS) to society. The author argues that LIS research makes an economic contribution to society, and improves its general welfare. LIS research also enhances scholarship in other disciplines, and provides information professionals useful theoretical and practical tools which ultimately guide society's ability to function democratically. The reader will conclude that research in the field contributes to the mutual benefit and greater good of individual members, through its worth, importance, and utility.
The human urge to wonder has advanced man beyond the stars in his pursuit of the unexplained. Humans formalize their want to know within the framework of a research study. Library research defines that framework in its discipline further as a "systematic study and investigation of some aspect of library and information science in which conclusions are based on the statistical analysis of data collected in accordance with a pre-established research design and methodology" (Reitz, 2004).
This paper seeks to investigate the value to society of that systematic study and investigation. The reader will conclude that research in the field of Library and Information Science (LIS) contributes to the mutual benefit of society through its worth, importance, and utility to member individuals.
Findings from LIS research have worth in making economic contributions to, and improving the general welfare of society. A better understanding of how information is exchanged, for example, can mean more transparency for consumers and producers. Kuhlthau's (1991) model of the search process demonstrates this by spotlighting the gap between consumers of information and its systems and intermediaries. Time and money are saved by understanding the economics of information. LIS models of valuing and pricing information better reflect market supply and demand thus financially rewarding buyers and sellers (Maina, 2003).
Shifts in medical practice and consumer health are captured through LIS research, thereby improving the well-being of individuals through accessible, affordable health care (Dalrymple, 2003). Contributions from LIS research to society's economy and well-being indicate the strong worth of its enterprise.
LIS research is important to society because of its long-term implications for scholarship. First, and foremost, LIS research expands upon its own fundamental theoretical base. Not long ago, the discipline was perceived as more vocational than academic beyond the realm of intellectual discovery (Brooks, 1989). LIS research, reflection, practice and policy, however, have moved the discipline forward (McKee, 2004). Lessons learned about how man encounters, needs, finds, chooses, and uses information transfer over to other disciplines, as well. For example, the myriad manifestations of human behavior, part of LIS research, are rich data for models of phenomena in the social and behavioral sciences (Greer & Grover, 1991). The author's own research in the multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) Second Life (www.secondlife.com) draws upon models of browsing behavior from the fields of communication, psychology, and computer science. The testing of new ideas in LIS research leads to innovation and improvement in all disciplines (McKee, 2004). Findings from research in LIS are important to society for its future scholarship.
Finally, the fruits of research in LIS impact society's ability to function democratically. Findings from LIS research aid decisions in what content providers publish and what librarians purchase (Tenopir, 2003). Libraries purchase access to information for their patrons with each dollar spent in acquisitions. Since an informed electorate is the foundation of any democracy, patrons' ability to acquire information is, in part, dependent upon decision-making founded in LIS research. Contributions from research in LIS guide society's ability to function democratically, and thus has utility.
The human urge to wonder has transformed a 'craft' unready for the realm of discovery of universals into a serious academic discipline rife with models and theories. That wonder has added value to society through the mutual benefit to member individuals from the worth, importance, and utility of research in Library and Information Science.
Dalrymple, P. (2003). Improving health care through information: research challenges for health sciences librarians. Library Trends, 51(4), 525-40. Retrieved January 15, 2008, from Academic Search Complete database.
Greer, R. and Grover, R. (1991). The cross-disciplinary imperative of LIS research. In McClure, C. R. and P. Hernon, Eds., Library and Information Science Research: Perspectives and Strategies for Improvement. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 101-113.
Kuhlthau, C. C. (1991). Inside the search process: Information seeking from the user's perspective. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 42, 361-371. Retrieved February 3, 2006, from Wiley InterScience database.
Maina, C. (2003). Valuing information in an information age: The price model and the emerging information divide among individuals, societies, and nations. Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, 27(3), 139. Retrieved January 28, 2006, from LISA: Library and Information Science Abstracts database.
McKee, B. (2004). Why do we need research? Library and Information Research, 28 (88), 3. Retrieved January 27, 2006, from http://www.lirg.org.uk/lir/pdf/88_mcKee.pdf
Reitz, J. M. (2004). ODLIS: Online dictionary for library and information science. Westport, Connecticut: Libraries Unlimited. Retrieved January 25, 2006, from http://lu.com/odlis/
Thoreau, H. D. (1906). A week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849). In The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, 1, 417. New York: Houghton Mifflin. Retrieved January 26, 2006, from: Andrews, R., Biggs, M. and Seidel, M., et al. (Eds.). Columbia world of quotations, The, (1996), http://www.bartleby.com/66/93/58893.html
Nancy Bronte Matheny is a Master's candidate in the Information Resources & Library Science program of the University of Arizona. Her research interests include the use of emerging technologies to preserve artifacts of cultural heritage, and archival management, and hopes at the conclusion of her degree to chase her love for American history, and serve in an academic library, state archive, or state historical society archive. She holds an M.B.A. in Finance. Nancy is a native Californian but has lived throughout the American South, Europe, and Asia, and presently resides in the Middle East, on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula in Muscat, Oman.
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