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Lecture 13

INST 352 Lecture 13: INST352 Lecture 13: History of the Research GenreExam

Information Studies
Course Code
INST 352

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INST352 Lecture 13: History of the Research Genre
Research on information-related human practices dates back at least one hundred
years, beginning perhaps in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Yet we could
also point to a much earlier, 1849 report to the British Parliament (see Wellard, 1935) as
representing an initial theme of IB research: documenting the effects of libraries and
reading on a particular audience. In the case of the Parliamentary report, the population
in question was the English working class. However this 1849 effort was far from a
scholarly investigation; it was based on the testimony of experts (e.g., local educators,
political leaders, or clergy), rather than interviews with the readers themselves; it is
largely anecdotal, using evidence from just a few people in a few towns, without any
systematic sampling. Yet, while lacking the consistency and rigor that we would today
require of a scholarly study, it is at least an early example of an attempt to describe the
effects of reading. In fact, its concern with “effects” presages an important development
in IB research that we discuss in Chapter 5: the importance of the outcomes of
Most scholars supply later dates for the start of the IB genre. According to Poole (1985),
the first study of information needs and uses dates back to 1902, when Charles Eliot
wrote about the used and unused portions of a library’s collection. In contrast, Bouazza
(1989, p. 144) says that “the history of user studies goes back to the 1920s,” and Wilson
(1994) credits a 1916 study by Ayres and McKinnie on reading habits in Cleveland
public libraries as the beginning of this line of inquiry. Whichever claim is correct, it is
clear that the antecedents of information behavior research lie in these early
investigations of library use and reading, with some attention paid in the latter study to
user characteristics. A turning point in this vein was Berelson’s (1949) report on “The
library’s public,” which reviewed two decade’s worth of research on the topic of public
library use, and raised important questions about who used libraries and why.
As we mentioned in Chapter 1, this fixation on venues or artifacts of information seeking
was to remain in place until at least the 1970s (Dervin, 1976a). These investigations
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