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Monday, January 30, 2012

Information and documentation, a most confusing topic


This week you will read about information and intellectual freedom. The two topics go together because they look at the creation or identification of data that will become information, and access to the information. Personally, I found the two articles about information difficult to understand, but then I’m not a theorist, I’m a practitioner. The way to approach the articles is to think about how YOU deal with information, how you interpret data to make it useful to yourself and your patrons.

Perhaps the best way to think about this issue is to consider the ways you use data to justify or support an argument. Do you look at each data element to see how it informs a whole? Do the data elements provide context or background? Buckland’s discussion of dead birds as documents is actually a continuation of the pamphlet by Suzanne Briet (where it talks about the antelope as text) called Qu’est que la documentation? [1] Buckland wrote another article that’s perhaps easier to understand.[2] Let me try to explain the concept using simpler terminology because the theory is difficult for me to put into practice.

There’s a notion that images are also texts. I have encountered this notion in art history and photography. When we look at an image, we learn a lot about a society or the individuals within the image. We see clothing, modes of transportation, goods, buildings, expressions and more. Using the image we can begin to understand the event it depicts, the people it portrays, and that time and place. Think about photographs of the Civil War, or your wedding, or the birth of a child. All tell us about the event and the participants. What I’ve done is applied the theory of documentation or information to the real world. I’ve shown how it can be used. Now, let’s back up to the photograph and consider the data. There are people in the photo, who are they? What are their names? What was the event? What are they wearing? Those are some of the data elements. When you catalog the photograph, you might include some of that data, especially if you are cataloging the data into a database where researchers are looking for people or clothing of a particular era, or they want images of particular types of buildings or cars. The data elements can be combined to provide background or context for the researcher. If I understand the theory correctly, that makes the data into information that can then be used by the researcher to become knowledge. See if you can apply the theory about image as document or text to this photograph of workers in a cigar factory. By looking at the images we learn how cigars were made, the types of equipment used, the working conditions, and more. The images document the factory and the processes of making cigars. All the photos can be considered data, or information, depending upon your perspective. I hope this example helps make more sense of the articles. Let me know.

[1] Reviewed by Jonathan Furner, “What is Documentation? English Translation of the Classic French Text” (review) Libraries & the Cultural Record, Volume 43, issue 1 (January 31, 2007), p. 107-109 [available through Kentlink].

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