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The Problem of Information: An Introduction…

The Problem of Information: An Introduction to Information Science (2003)

by Douglas Raber

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This is one of the most disappointing books I've ever had to read. It is full of misinformation, typos, and a lack of understanding of concepts. The only positive thing I can say about the book is it lead to some impassioned posts in my online MLS course:

Normally, I would tell you what I think about Chapter 10, not how I feel about it. However, my emotional response to the reading was stronger than my intellectual satisfaction. I feel angry, annoyed, frustrated and amused.

The problem of information starts with Dr. Raber. Some
of his sentences are obscure enough to be laughable. The jokes start early, in the first sentence of the second paragraph of Chapter 10, with

“Unfortunately, we have yet to breach the ambiguity
inherent in the representation of documents and in judgments regarding their relevance.”

I think he’s saying that there’s more than one way to describe a document and the way it is described will make appear more or less useful than it really is. I have no quarrel with that; I object to the effort involved to translate the sentence into English.

Geniuses such as Richard Feynman and Albert Einstein said that if you really understand something, you can explain it simply. Raber’s explanations are not simple.

The only part of the chapter that I enjoyed was his use of ASK, “anomalous state of knowledge.” I was pleased that he included the acronym in the Index, since I did not immediately figure out what ASK stood for on page 203. I like the fact that the initials of the words form the solution to the alleged discomfort of such a state. However, I think the asking of questions can be more important than their answers; I don’t mind living with a state of knowledge that doesn’t follow the rules. (I didn’t know states of knowledge had rules.) In other words, as cute as the phrase is, I still think it is yet another example of the technobabble that fills the book. Much of the technobabble, like ASK, is the work of others; but Dr. Raber’s discussions do not clarify any of it.

I am concerned that Raber seems to believe that people seek information to fulfill needs. My husband’s interest in the Elizabethan era does not help him socially, economically, physically, politically, or academically. My love of picture books began long before I wanted to be a librarian. I am a firm believer in the Jewish concept of Torah Lishmah, which can be translated as learning for its own sake. I understand Raber’s point that my interests are influenced by the world I live in. I don’t disagree with that. But I don’t believe that I am only a collection of outside influences.

Finally, consider the number of typos in the chapter. It’s not just the missing period at the end of the second line of page 215 or the space before the comma on the seventh line from the bottom of the same page. It’s also the duplicate use of “consider” in the second complete sentence on page 210:

“A critical difference, however, is that organizations must consider also consider their constituents both inside and outside of the organization.”

As well as the duplicate use of “in” in the first complete sentence on page 214:

“Even if information science as an organized academic discipline maintains a strict neutrality toward issues of information politics, the kind of theorizing in which it indulges in may be used by others to design telecommunications and information technologies whose use will contribute to the social construction of human beings as consumers of information.”

Dr. Raber or his editor must have remembered the rule that a preposition is a bad thing to end a sentence with and attempted to fix this; but putting “in” before “which” is silly unless you remove “in” after “indulges.” (Anyway, grammarians tend to feel that the preposition rule is overly pedantic.)

Also, the first sentence of the second complete paragraph on page 210 shouldn’t be “doing” anything that needs “treating”:

“Still, while there are good reasons for doing treating such phenomena as natural objects, such an approach fails to acknowledge the social construction of information-use environments.”

Sloppy editing makes the muddle even muddier. Raber has some interesting ideas buried in the book; perhaps starting the course late and getting the book even later made me too stressed to want to do more than scratch the surface.

I gave this a 1/2 star because I couldn't go any lower. Perhaps LT should consider negative stars, maybe black holes. ( )
  raizel | Nov 18, 2009 |
This covers semiotics, almost exclusively, so if that is what you are interested in you should find this book an interesting read. If you are attempting to gain insight into the problems facing us in the Information Age look somewhere else. For what it is worth, I read this book for the introduction course in a graduate level information science course. ( )
  reellis67 | Sep 18, 2008 |
Very dense introduction to information science. I certainly would not read it for pleasure, but it is an informative textbook, and it covers many of the most influential journal articles written on information science. ( )
  martyr13 | Dec 31, 2007 |
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Information science is not an easy discipline to describe to people who do not practice it, at least in part because the phrase itself is rather ambiguous.
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Information can be conceptualized in two fundamentally yet contradictory ways_it appears in the world as both a physical and a cognitive phenomenon. The dilemma information specialists face is similar to that of physicists who must cope with light as both a wave and a particle. Unlike physics, however, information science has yet to develop a unified theory that unites the contradictory conceptions of its essential theoretical object. While there are numerous books today that address information science as a scholarly discipline, for the most part they assume a prior knowledge of the field. The Problem of Information provides an accessible introduction to the essential concepts and research issues of information science while exploring the indeterminate nature of information as a theoretical object. Signifying how information science contributes to the disciplines from which it borrows, this book provides insight into computer science, cognitive psychology, semiotics, sociology, and political science. Designed specifically for the beginner student new to the field of information science.… (more)

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