This study establishes three predominant cognitive models of information and the information transfer process manifest in the literature of library and information science, based on a linguistic analysis of phrases incorporating the word ‘information’ from a random sample of abstracts in the LISA database. The direct communication (DC) and indirect communication (IC) models (drawn from Reddy's frameworks of metalinguistic usage) adopt the perspective of the information system; the information‐seeking (IS) model takes the viewpoint of the information user. Two disturbing findings are presented: 1. core elements of the DC and IC models are more weakly supported by the data than are most of the peripheral elements; and 2. even though the IS model presents the information user's perspective, the data emphasise the role of the information system. These findings suggest respectively that the field lacks a coherent model of information transfer per se and that our model of information retrieval is mechanistic, oblivious to the cognitive models of end users.
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