Guest editorial

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 7 October 2014



Willett, P. (2014), "Guest editorial", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 70 No. 6.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Guest editorial

Article Type: Guest editorial From: Journal of Documentation, Volume 70, Issue 6

Introduction to the Nigel Ford festschrift

Following his recent retirement from the Information School at the University of Sheffield, this issue of the Journal of Documentation acts as a festschrift to recognize Nigel Ford's contributions to research in library and information science. He is best known for his work on understanding the effect of selected individual differences, in particular, cognitive style on how people search for information, and on the intersection between how people learn and how they use information to learn. But his life's work has had considerable breadth as well as depth, as he started with a keen interest in artificial intelligence from which he developed his thinking about the impact of new technologies on information behaviour, and in cataloguing and classification, a knowledge that he loved to impart to students.

After taking a first degree in French Language and Literature at the University of Leeds, Nigel came to the Postgraduate School of Librarianship and Information Science (as it then was) at the University of Sheffield in 1971 to undertake the MA Librarianship programme. On successful completion of the course, he went to work as a Tutor Librarian at Edge Hill College of Higher Education (as it then was), before returning to Sheffield as a lecturer in 1981. He was appointed Professor of Information Science in 2001 and retired in 2014.

Even before taking up his position in Sheffield, Nigel had started to consider the relationship between research in educational psychology and issues in information science (Ford, 1979), and this provided the platform for his subsequent empirical and theoretical studies of information seeking and information behaviour, e.g. Ford and Ford (1993), Ford (1995, 2000) and Whittle et al. (2007). Much of this work was conducted in educational contexts of various sorts, and Nigel thus made a significant contribution to the emergence and development of educational informatics, which he described as the bringing together of “educational computing and information science to better harness the increasing wealth of resources accessible via the Internet for the purposes of learning” in the first major review of the field (Ford, 2008).

His research has appeared in some 150 publications that have attracted over 4,000 citations in Google Scholar. These publications include 15 that have appeared in this journal, making him one of the most productive contributors in terms of numbers of articles. These Journal of Documentation articles provide a flavour of the breadth of his interests, covering as they do topics such as serendipity and information seeking, web search behaviour, methodological issues and the role of creativity, e.g. Ford (1999), Ford et al. (2002), Foster and Ford (2003), Madden et al. (2007) and Gorrell et al. (2011). He is also the author of six books on aspects of the web, e.g. Ford (2011) and of artificial intelligence, e.g. Ford (1987) (which was subsequently translated into German and Japanese).

The papers in this festschrift have been contributed by Nigel's ex-students and colleagues, both in Sheffield and elsewhere. The study of cognitive styles has been a long-standing interest for Nigel and this forms the focus of two of the papers here. Goodale et al. (“Cognitive styles within an exploratory search system for digital libraries”)[1] demonstrate that the cognitive styles of users strongly affect how they explore, search and interact with a digital library of cultural heritage materials; perhaps surprisingly, the extensive results suggest that users respond positively to functionality that supports activities in which they are cognitively weak. Chen (“Cognitive styles and the use of electronic journals in a mobile context”) compares how people with different cognitive styles (holists or serialists) use mobile devices to access electronic journals. Four papers then discuss other aspects of information behaviour. Foster and Ellis (“Serendipity and its study”) provide a synthesis of the literature on serendipity and discuss how the topic can be investigated, particularly in the information studies context. Hepworth et al. (“Research and practice: a critical reflection of approaches that underpin research into people's information behaviour”) discuss the underlying philosophical assumptions that influence the way that information behaviour research is conducted and that information services are designed and developed. Birdi (“Genre fiction readers: a quantitative exploration of provided construct ratings”) discusses the results obtained in a repertory grid study of the characteristics of the readers of ten fiction genres, including minority ethnic fiction. Heinström et al. (“Spanning information behaviour across the stages of a learning task – where do personality and approach to studying matter?”) explore the effects of personality and of study approaches on students’ learning-related information behaviour, and show that students’ individual traits do indeed influence their behaviour. Next, two papers suggest novel approaches to studies in experimental information retrieval. Ruthven (“Relevance behaviour in TREC”) argues that the extensive sets of relevance judgements associated with document test-collections such as TREC could be used to answer a range of relevance-related questions from the information seeking community and to better understand the results of system evaluation by the information retrieval community. Wildemuth et al. (“Untangling search task complexity and difficulty in the context of interactive information retrieval studies”) then review over 100 previous studies of interactive information retrieval as a prelude to providing guidelines for experimentalists to test, observe or control the complexity and difficulty of search tasks. Finally, Benson and Willett (“The Information School at the University of Sheffield, 1963-2013”) describe the historical development of the Sheffield School where Nigel spent so much of his career.

While Ford is one of the co-authors of this paper, he was unaware that the paper had been contributed for his festschrift or, indeed that there was such a festschrift.

Professor Peter Willett


Ford, N.J. (1979), “Cognitive psychology and library learning”, Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, Vol. 11 No. 4, pp. 25-38

Ford, N.J. (1987), How Machines Think: A General Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, illustrated in PROLOG, Wiley, Chichester

Ford, N.J. (1995), “Levels and types of mediation in instructional systems: an individual differences approach”, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, Vol. 43 No. 2, pp. 241-259

Ford, N.J. (1999), “Information retrieval and creativity: towards support for the original thinker”, Journal of Documentation, Vol. 55 No. 5, pp. 528-542

Ford, N.J. (2000), “The increasing relevance of Pask's work to modern information seeking and use”, Kybernetes, Vol. 30 Nos 5/6, pp. 603-629

Ford, N.J. (2008), “Educational informatics”, Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, Vol. 42 No. 1, pp. 497-544

Ford, N.J. (2011), The Essential Guide to Using the Web for Research, Sage, London

Ford, N.J. and Ford, R. (1993), “Towards a cognitive theory of information accessing: an empirical study”, Information Processing and Management, Vol. 29 No. 5, pp. 569-585

Ford, N.J., Miller, D. and Moss, N. (2002), “Web search strategies and retrieval effectiveness: an empirical study”, Journal of Documentation, Vol. 58 No. 1, pp. 30-48

Foster, A. and Ford, N.J. (2003), “Serendipity and information seeking: an empirical study”, Journal of Documentation, Vol. 59 No. 3, pp. 321-340

Gorrell, G., Ford, N.J., Madden, A., Holdridge, P. and Eaglestone, B. (2011), “Countering method bias in questionnaire-based user studies”, Journal of Documentation, Vol. 67 No. 3, pp. 507-524

Madden, A., Ford, N.J. and Miller, D. (2007), “Information resources for schoolchildren: perceived and actual levels of usefulness”, Journal of Documentation, Vol. 63 No. 3, pp. 340-358

Whittle, M., Eaglestone, B., Ford, N.J., Gillet, V.J. and Madden, A. (2007), “Data mining of search engine logs”, Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, Vol. 58 No. 14, pp. 2382-2400

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