World Libraries, Volume 9, Number 1, Spring 1999
Information Seeking and Subject Representation: An Activity-Theoretical Approach to Information Science.
Given this works title, it appears reasonable that the Library of Congress assigned to it the subject headings Subject cataloging and Indexing. However, Hjørlands treatise goes far beyond these narrow topics, blending concepts from the field of information science with those of psychology and philosophy. In this regard, his work is in step with the current emphasis in higher education on interdisciplinary studies.
The books two main sections are divided into seven chapters. In chapters one through four, Hjørland investigates the concepts of subject analysis and subject representation. He explores the concept of subject, as well as theories of the organization of knowledge and subject retrieval. In chapter five he presents a concept of information and introduces the theories of methodological individualism (MI) and methodological collectivism (MC). Hjørland argues that with MI, an individual conceives of knowledge as individual mental states rather than as a social or cultural process or product. He believes that information-seeking will be more successful and fruitful using a MC framework, whereby researchers would view knowledge, not from their own unique perspective, but rather through some collective structure such as domains or disciplines. Given this, chapters six and seven delve into information-seeking and information needs as viewed in terms of a MC construct.
Along the way, Hjørland explores a variety of interesting ancillary theoretical concepts. Some of these hail from purely philosophical arenas such as the aboutness of subjects, or the possibility of documents without subjects. Others are more concrete, such as a debate contrasting the seeking of information via chain searching (i.e., using references in alreadylocated literature) with traditional bibliographic searching of databases.
However, because of this interdisciplinary blending of ideas from the field of information science with those from the fields of psychology and philosophy, the author necessarily leans toward the theoretical and away from the practical. In this, his writing is reminiscent of the writings of the noted Indian library science philosopher, S.R. Ranganathan. Hjørland, however, routinely integrates the ideas of other philosophers and philosophies into his own in order to substantiate his argument. Because of this, it would behoove the reader to have at least a passing acquaintance with the writings of John Dewey, Friedrich Hegel, and Immanuel Kant (to name a few), as well as with concepts such as empiricism, subjectivism, and other schools of epistemological thought.
In all, this is an intensely intellectual work, and will be most useful to Ph.D. candidates and practicing professionals engaged in scholarly publishing which emphasizes the theoretical. This book would almost inevitably have no appeal as a classroom textbook, and would be well beyond the needs of most masters level research.
R. Conrad Winke is a Monographic Cataloger at the Northwestern University Library in Evanston, Ill. He is also an adjunct instructor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University.
© 1999 R. Conrad Winke
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