Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
In this issue we publish the first of a series of articles celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the Journal of Documentation.Each of the series will comment on the significance and influence of an article from past years, and when complete the series will span the six decades.
The first article, written by Steven Robertson, focuses on an original article by Karen Spärck-Jones, a former editor of the journal, who has written a response, also published in this issue.
It is appropriate that information retrieval should be the theme for the first of this series. The topic has provided many of the most important articles which the journal has published over the years. Robertson himself writing an appreciation of the coverage of “computer retrieval” in a volume celebrating the journal's fiftieth anniversary, notes that the lifespan of Journal of Documentation corresponds precisely with the life time of the modern computer (Robertson, 1994). He reminds us, however, that information retrieval did not begin with the digital computer, and that early IR writings in the journal were concerned with the mechanised documentation systems which preceded it: punched cards, edge-notched cards and the like.
The place of retrieval within the wider field of the information sciences is an interesting one. It can be seen in one respect as the place where the two main paradigms of information research – the systems paradigm and the cognitive paradigm – meet (see, for example, Ellis, 1992). It can also be seen as embedded at the core of one of the main foci of the information sciences, with information retrieval a part of the broader topic of information seeking; itself embedded within the still broader concept of human information behaviour. It overlaps with other fundamental concerns of the information sciences, for example, knowledge representation and organisation, and the typology and management of information resources. It is therefore understandable that retrieval systems, tasks and contexts have been a fruitful arena, not merely for the development of new algorithms and interfaces but also for the formation of new concepts, frameworks, theories and models.
In professional terms, retrieval has been seen, in various ways, as defining the documentalist or information scientist, as distinct from the librarian or archivist. At one time, the online intermediary role was seen as the key function. At another, expertise in text retrieval was claimed as the unique basis for the profession, while others saw the construction of hypertext documents as a raison d'etre.
Time has shown how foolish it is to base a claim to professional status on any particular technology or application. With hindsight, it seems clear that an understanding of basic principles – interpretable in terms of, and instantiated in, the technology of the moment – is the only firm basis. Robertson (1994), referring back to the early writings of Fairthorne (1961), points out that is ideas, growing into theories and models, which has been the aspect of information retrieval which has received attention in the Journal of Documentation. It seems to me that this is not only academically sound, but highly responsible in a professional sense. It is certainly the path which the journal will follow in the future.
David BawdenCity University, London, UK
Ellis, D. (1992), “Paradigms and proto-paradigms in information retrieval research”, in Vakkari, P. and Cronin, B. (Eds), Conceptions of Library and Information Science, Taylor Graham, London.
Fairthorne, R.A. (1961), Towards Information Retrieval, Butterworths, London.
Robertson, S.E. (1994), “Computer retrieval”, in Vickery, B.C. (Ed.), Fifty Years of Information Progress, Aslib, London, pp. 119-46.