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The red thread of information

Jenna Hartel (Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Publication date: 14 February 2020

Abstract

Purpose

In The Invisible Substrate of Information Science, a landmark article about the discipline of information science, Marcia J. Bates wrote that “…we are always looking for the red thread of information in the social texture of people's lives” (1999a, p. 1048). To sharpen our understanding of information science and to elaborate Bates' idea, the work at hand answers the question: Just what does the red thread of information entail?

Design/methodology/approach

Through a close reading of Bates' oeuvre and by applying concepts from the reference literature of information science, nine composite entities that qualify as the red thread of information are identified, elaborated, and related to existing concepts in the information science literature. In the spirit of a scientist–poet (White, 1999), several playful metaphors related to the color red are employed.

Findings

Bates' red thread of information entails: terms, genres, literatures, classification systems, scholarly communication, information retrieval, information experience, information institutions, and information policy. This same constellation of phenomena can be found in resonant visions of information science, namely, domain analysis (Hjørland, 2002), ethnography of infrastructure (Star, 1999), and social epistemology (Shera, 1968).

Research limitations/implications

With the vital vermilion filament in clear view, newcomers can more easily engage the material, conceptual, and social machinery of information science, and specialists are reminded of what constitutes information science as a whole. Future researchers and scientist–poets may wish to supplement the nine composite entities with additional, emergent information phenomena.

Originality/value

Though the explication of information science that follows is relatively orthodox and time-bound, the paper offers an imaginative, accessible, yet technically precise way of understanding the field.

Keywords

Citation

Hartel, J. (2020), "The red thread of information", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 76 No. 3, pp. 647-656. https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-04-2019-0067

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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