7 The Information Disciplines

K S Raghavan

epgp books



I. Objectives


•      To provide an overview of the information disciplines; its scope and evolution.

•      To name the major sub-disciplines of Information studies and their components

•      To highlight some of the recent trends


II. Learning Outcome


On completing this module you should have a clear idea of the evolution of information studies from Librarianship. You are expected to have a clear idea of the expanding scope of information studies (aka information science) and the current trends in the discipline as a direct consequence of the emerging knowledge society.


III. Structure of the Module


1.     Introduction

2.     The Scope of Information Disciplines

3.     Information Studies as a Discipline

4.     Librarianship

5.     Archival Studies

6.     Summary


1. Introduction


When we look at the history of growth and development of disciplines in the long term, we find that Social Sciences became recognized disciplines in the late 19th Century. Political Philosophy and Economics, were, no doubt, studied in the earlier centuries as we have the example of the classic, Kautilya’s Arthashastra that dates back to the pre-common era. However these disciplines did not have the benefit of modern mathematical and analytical tools until the late 19th century and 20th century. Today there are large university research departments, thousands of books and journals devoted to these disciplines, and numerous professional bodies clearly indicating that these disciplines have indeed come into being. Universities and institutions of higher education do not any longer see these disciplines as marginal or frivolous.


The Information disciplines1 are in a sense analogous to the social sciences and came into their own only by the last quarter of the 20th century. Although the first library school was established by Melville Dewey in 1887, right up to the middle of the 20th century were largely considered marginal by the more established disciplines. However, following a series of major developments in the second half of the 20th century which strengthened further in the 21st century, the Information disciplines have to come to gain scientific as well as social validity. Today information is the focus of large industries, from databases to search engines to, e-commerce. Many governments, especially in the developed world have adopted and implemented a national information policy; some even have standing committees exclusively focused on information-related issues, e.g. the NCLIS in the United States which is directly responsible to the U.S. Congress; the National Library Mission in India set up following a recommendation of the National Knowledge Commission. These are clear indicators that the information disciplines have come to be accepted as major players not only in the academia but also in the socio-economic sectors.


2. Scope of Information Disciplines


One thing that strikes anyone who examines the huge volume of literature on the information discipline is that there has really been no clarity on what constitute the information disciplines. Traditionally the library schools (Schools of librarianship / library science which date back to the last quarter of the 19th century2) were the first group to attempt to give a shape and structure to the contents that defined the scope of the discipline. The changes and developments that preceded and followed the Second World War (e.g. Shannon’s Theory, General Systems Theory, Cybernetics, etc.) resulted in a debate as to the scope of the discipline and the discipline, which incorporated traditional Library Science, but which had a much broader scope came to be called as Information Science or Information Studies . This trend which began in the 1960s in the United States soon spread to other parts of the world and library schools came to be re-christened as schools of library and information science.


The emergence of the information sector as an important component of the economy, the growth and development of the World Wide Web and similar developments resulted in some kind of a power struggle within the universities with many disciplinary groups ranging from Management Sciences, Computer Sciences and Engineering, Communication and Behavioural studies (of course, in addition to the traditional Library and Information Science schools) claiming legitimacy to design and offer programmes in the new domain of information. The 1990s saw a new phenomenon in the emergence of what are called as the i-schools. The i-schools focus on the information phenomenon and today the i-schools largely define what the information disciplines really are. This brings us to the subject of the scope of the information disciplines and the background most needed to create coherent information disciplines.

  • Surely, information disciplines need to be seen differently in comparison to the traditional array of disciplines that most of us are familiar with. Traditionally academic disciplines are seen on a spectrum beginning with the study of naturally occurring entities (Physical and Life Sciences) to Humanities (Spirituality, Religion, etc.) and to Social Sciences (study of societies, communities, etc.). The technologies and other professional domains either figure at the end of this spectrum or are interpolated between the various sciences, arts and social sciences. There are some disciplines that are at right angles to the traditional disciplines. These include, e.g. Journalism and Mass communication and information disciplines. It is probably for this reason that these disciplines were accommodated before the traditional disciplines in the classification schemes designed by Dewey, Ranganathan and other classificationists.
  • When we examine the scope of some of these disciplines we see, e.g., that communication researchers study the transmission of messages and their impact in a variety of contexts, and journalists learn to identify topics of interest – what constitutes news – and present a news story, the subject of the news story itself could be anything from space technology to sports, to music and culture, to politics and governance. Similarly the information disciplines deal with all aspects of the generation, collection, organization, retrieval, presentation and dissemination of information in various contexts and on various subject matters as also the impact of information on and information behaviour of individuals and groups. It is these activities that define the perspective or viewpoint of the information disciplines. In this sense information disciplines could be called as meta-disciplines. To illustrate this we may consider one of the information disciplines, say librarianship. Libraries contain all kinds of information resources and knowledge artifacts on the full spectrum of traditional disciplines and even meta-disciplines, and the function and expertise of librarians relates to the tasks of selecting, collecting, organizing, preserving, searching, retrieving and disseminating information from that full spectrum.
  • The new information disciplines arose when the information resources and knowledge artifacts available in a domain became too large and voluminous. It is important for us LIS professionals to realize that early archivists were historians. Similarly it was considered a part of the work of the medical profession to create and maintain patient records. What really brought about the change and necessitated a complete re-thinking of these and other similar activities was the volume of information that became available, that needed to be collected, organized, preserved, searched and retrieved. As more and more resources collect, the individuals in the discipline recognized the problems of organizing, searching and retrieving information and drew upon earlier information disciplines or developed new solutions to their problems. The need to store, search and retrieve information from patient records and reports of various biochemistry and radiology tests probably led to the emergence of health informatics. The emergence of new disciplines at the intersection of existing disciplines is not something new. S. R. Ranganathan identified and defined fusion as one of the basic modes of formation of new disciplines and ideas. The most commonly cited example is the discipline of Biochemistry formed by a fusion of Biology and Chemistry. However, there is a significant difference between these and the information disciplines. The kind of skills, knowledge and perspective called for is very different. For example, a health professional may or may not have the skills required to build an effective health information system; surely the background in health sciences is an advantage; however building effective and efficient information systems requires knowledge, skills and perspectives that could be very different. Thus a few information disciplines each one of which had emerged out of recognition of the need felt by the community of individuals belonging to a home discipline came into being. A body of knowledge and techniques common to such information disciplines was distilled, over a period of time, to constitute the science of information or Information Studies. Marcia Bates who is one of the editors of the new Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences portrays the information disciplines as below (Fig. 1) in defining and identifying the scope of the Encyclopedia [1].

Figure 1 Information disciplines


The figure clearly depicts the fact that indeed a very wide range of human activities result in information resources and knowledge artifacts that include: business records, family histories, scholarly books, scientific and technical journals, doctoral theses, websites, E-mails, listservs and blogs for groups with common interests, religious texts, educational curricula, x-rays, hospital patient records, case records in law, and criminal justice, architectural drawings, etc. (See Figure 2) [2]. What characterizes the information disciplines, therefore, is that they are concerned with the knowledge artifacts that result from the activities of individuals working and belonging to virtually every domain and discipline. The information disciplines have as their areas of interest all aspects related to the knowledge artifacts including how individuals and groups behave in terms of seeking, searching, using such artifacts and the impact these have on individuals. Probably the only discipline that is closely related to information disciplines but still does not deal with knowledge artifacts as defined here is Museum Studies which is concerned with museum objects. Museums along with libraries and archives are all considered memory institutions in that they collect and preserve cultural artifacts that are collectively records of cultural, artistic and intellectual heritage of a community / nation.



Figure 2 Information Activities & Knowledge Artifacts3


At this stage we are in a position to provide a broad definition of the information disciplines. These are disciplines that have as their scope of activity all academic disciplines and professions from the perspective of creating collections of knowledge artifacts / information resources of value for study, research, and entertainment. The tasks of the information disciplines include identifying, collecting, organizing, retrieving, disseminating and using collections. There are associated legal, political, and social issues in all these disciplines. Information and communications technologies are major enablers. The major Information disciplines include: Librarianship, Archival Science, Information Studies, Information Systems and Knowledge Management. In the following sections we will use the term Information Studies to collectively denote all information related disciplines.


Information Studies is about knowledge artifacts and how to help people find knowledge artifacts of interest to them, how people seek and use these knowledge artifacts and how should these be organized, represented and indexed to facilitate access to them, etc. It is at once both a mono discipline that stands on its own and an interdisciplinary area that draws from a wide range of disciplines. Even though a considerable amount of information is available in digital form, Information Studies is not synonymous with information technology. Hjorland highlights an important difference between Information Studies and Computer Science: while for (computer science) the interaction between humans and computers (HCI) is a core area of interest, for Information Studies it is the interaction between people and the whole information ecology that is of interest. [3] There are several branches and areas of specialization within Information Studies. Some of the widely known areas of specialization and subfields include:

  • User Studies; Specific user groups are a major area of interest in Information Studies. For example, Children, Undergraduate students, (Middle level managers), planners, space scientists, etc.;
  • Specific technologies and their use in information sharing / exchange. For example, social media and social networks are another major area of interest.
  • Subfields that cover various information processes and related tools. For example, knowledge organization, information search and retrieval, etc.
  • Sub-fields that focus on specific domains such as scientific information, legal information, etc.
  • Sub-fields that focus on specific kinds of information institutions such as libraries, archives, knowledge management, etc.


3.     Information Studies as a Discipline


In this section we will briefly examine some of the definitions of Information Studies4. Borko (1968, p.3) defined IS as below [4].


“Information science is a discipline that investigates the properties and behavior of information, the forces governing the flow of information, and the means of processing information for optimum accessibility and usability. It is concerned with that body of knowledge relating to the origination, collection, organization, storage, retrieval, interpretation, transmission, transformation, and utilization of information… It has both a pure science component, which inquires into the subject without regard to its application, and an applied science component, which develops services and products.”


Foskett (1980, p.64) defined Information Studies as: “A discipline that emerged from a ‘cross fertilization’ of ideas that include an old art of librarianship, a new art of computer science, arts of new types of communication and those sciences such as psychology and linguistics that, in their modern forms are related directly with all problems of communications” [5]


According to Saracevic (1996, p.47), one of the most important theoreticians in the field: “Information Science is a field devoted to scientific inquiry and professional practice addressing the problems of effective communication of knowledge and knowledge records among humans in the context of social, institutional, and/or individual uses of and needs of information. In addressing these problems of particular interest it is taking as much advantage as possible of the modern information technology” [6].


The Wikipedia quotes the following definition from Stock and Stock: Information Science (or information studies) is an interdisciplinary field primarily concerned with the analysis, collection, classification, manipulation, storage, retrieval, movement, and dissemination of information. Practitioners within the field study the application and usage of knowledge in organizations, along with the interaction between people, organizations and any existing information systems, with the aim of creating, replacing, improving, or understanding information systems. Information science is often (mistakenly) considered a branch of computer science. However, it is actually a broad, interdisciplinary field, incorporating not only aspects of computer science, but often diverse fields such as archival science, cognitive science, commerce, communications, law, library science, museology, management, mathematics, philosophy, public policy, and the social sciences.


All the definitions emphasize the inter-disciplinary nature of Information Studies; the definition given by Saracevic places Information Retrieval at the core of Information Studies. It appears to suggest that Information Retrieval is the principal cause for the emergence of the discipline. The definition is also touches on individuals in the process of communication. Saracevic (1996, p.48) identifies four disciplines closely related to Information Studies: Librarianship, Computer Science, Cognitive Sciences and Communication.

Figure 3 – Information Studies


  • Evolution of Information Studies: The origins of the discipline of Information Studies could be traced to the founding of the International Institute of bibliography by Paul Otlet and Henri Lafontaine in the last decade of the 19th century in Europe with the objective of organizing scholarly literature in the sciences. The Institute was renamed as FID (International Federation for Documentation) in 1931 and it is in documentation that we find the early theoretical foundations of modern information studies. Otlet and Lafontaine (who won the Nobel Prize in 1913) not only envisioned later technical innovations but also projected a global vision for information that has many things in common with the vision of today’s information society.
  • Next important development is the vision of a great network of knowledge focused on documents which included the notion of hyperlinks and remote access projected by Vanneaver? Bush. Bush visualized quite early what eventually the World Wide Web became. Shannon’s Information Theory is another landmark development that triggered the emergence of the discipline of Information Studies. Beginning with the late 1960s there was a move from batch processing to online mode as also from mainframe to mini and microcomputers. Large bibliographic databases such as MEDLINE and service providers such as DIALOG with support for remote access emerged. The American Documentation Institute was renamed as the American Society for Information Science. All these developments triggered the transition to modern Information Studies.


According to Saracevic Information Science was formally born as an academic discipline in 1962 in a meeting at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and was to concern itself with “… attempts to formalize the properties of information by applying information theory, and several other constructs from cognitive science, logic and/or philosophy…”. The 1970’s marked the beginning of a paradigm shift with ‘user as the focus’. It is during this period that we see increasing emphasis being placed on the importance of cognitive research to Information Studies. The increasing focus is on users and user information needs as the starting points for integrating information and information technology into organizations.

  • The Major Areas of Study and Research in Information Studies: There are several different viewpoints as to what constitutes Information Studies5. Here we have adopted a particular approach and see the discipline as evolving from Librarianship and Documentation with, of course, inputs from several areas that include Cognitive Sciences, Computer Sciences, Management Sciences, Linguistics, to mention a few. Some of the major areas of research in Information Studies are:
  • Information and Knowledge Society: The terms Information Society and Knowledge Society are often used interchangeably although there is a difference. Information Society refers to a society in which the generation, distribution, diffusion, use and application of information is a significant economic and cultural activity. In a Knowledge Society on the other hand the focus is on democratization of and equitable access to knowledge resources for all to ensure continuing education, effective participation of citizens in governance, human rights and the like. Both depend extensively on the use of information and communication technologies in realizing their goals. The area includes the study of the role and impact of information and information technology on society. The area is also seen as a specific branch of contemporary sociology
  • Information Access: It is an area of research at the intersection of Information technology, Library Science, Information Security, Language Technology, Computer Science, etc. Includes issues related to Intellectual Property Rights & copyright, Information Security, Open Access, etc.
  • Information Architecture (IA): It is the art and science of organizing and presenting information on websites and intranets to enhance usability and facilitate navigation. In recent years the effort has been to explore the feasibility and utility of application of techniques such as Facet Analysis developed in conventional library classification in this area.
  • Information & Knowledge Management: It is concerned with gathering and management of information from one or more sources to maximize the use of available information in problem solving. Knowledge Management (KM) is especially an area of interest in large corporations with focus on capturing, organizing, making accessible and delivering tacit knowledge available among the human resources within the organization.
  • Information Processing and Retrieval (IR): It is the core of Information Studies. The major focus is on organizing, searching and retrieval of information objects or information stored in documents. Thus the major area includes aspects such as metadata, knowledge organization, relational databases, and draws inputs from natural language processing, cognitive information processing, etc. An information retrieval process begins when a user enters a query into the system. Queries are formal statements of information needs, for example search strings in web search engines. Often the information objects themselves are not kept or stored directly in the IR system, but are instead represented in the system by document surrogates or metadata. Information retrieval differs from fact / data retrieval in that a search does not uniquely identify a single relevant piece of information or information object in the collection. Most IR systems compute a numeric score indicating the degree of relevance – how closely each object in the database matches the query – and rank the objects according to this value.
  • Knowledge representation (KR): It is a branch of AI and is aimed at representing knowledge in symbols to support inferencing from those knowledge elements. KR is seen independently of the underlying knowledge base and the tools can be applied to model any knowledge domain. The area is closely related to information processing and retrieval and includes aspects of logic, building of ontologies to support knowledge discovery, summarization and similar activities. Knowledge Representation (KR) involves understanding of how to reason accurately and effectively and how best to represent a set of facts within a knowledge domain. This is an area that is gaining in importance in view of the huge volumes of information and data available in digital form on the Web.
  • Information Seeking: Information seeking is the process or activity of attempting to obtain information in both human and technological contexts. Information seeking is related to, but different from, information retrieval (IR). There is a considerable amount of work on the information-seeking behaviour of practitioners within various fields of professional work, academics, lawyers, etc. Thus the scope of this branch includes modeling information seeking behaviour, and development of theories of information seeking.
  • Informetrics: is the area that seeks to quantify, map and modeling information in all its manifestations and in terms of all of its attributes – scatter, usage, obsolescence, distribution, utility and value, production, inter-relationship, etc. The term as it is used today includes traditional Bibliometrics and Scientometrics.


4.     Librarianship


Library science (termed today as library and information science) is a field that has traditionally been associated with the management and administration of all activities, processes and services of libraries of various kinds. In this sense its major concerns are collection, organization, management, preservation and dissemination of information resources of all kinds and genres. There is no clear and generally agreed-upon distinction between the terms library science, librarianship, and library and information science; and to a very large extent these are used interchangeably. However, in the present day context, the term Library and Information Science (LIS) is most widely used. Historically, the discipline has also included archival science. Some of the areas that are studied as branches of Librarianship are:

  • Library and Society: dealing with the place and importance of libraries in a society and the social, philosophical and ethical aspects of librarianship and library services. The position and role of the library in a variety of settings and contexts – the academic and research library, public library, school and children’s library, industrial library, etc.- are studied.
  • Library Management: dealing largely with the library as a system and the application of management principles and techniques for the planning and day-to-day administration of libraries. The processes of selection, acquisition, collection development, circulation and control of information resources come within the scope of this branch.
  • Cataloguing & Classification: dealing with organization of the resources by creating the necessary surrogates and proper shelf arrangement of resources to facilitate browsing, search and retrieval. The study of various classification schemes, codes of cataloguing and related standards form part of this area.
  • Reference and Information Sources and Services: This is a major area of focus in librarianship and concerns with a working knowledge of different kinds of ready reference sources and planning and implementation of different kinds of information services for library customers.


In addition to these it was customary in traditional library schools also to cover aspects related to printing (Physical Bibliography), binding and repair of books and preservation of library materials. Also some aspects of design and planning of library buildings and library furniture were included. Today the nature and complexion of the library, its managements and the nature and range of services have completely changed as a result of developments in technology. Accordingly the scope of the discipline as it is taught in LIS schools has undergone major transformation both in terms of focus and emphasis. The networked resources, the Internet and the World Wide Web as a major channel of information transmission, dissemination and access have all transformed the traditional library. Today the library is seen as one of the several channels available for accessing information. The library is seen in a larger context and primarily as an agency that makes value additions in the processes of enhancing access to information. Technology has impacted all aspects of library work and service including housekeeping, collection development, organization and information retrieval, provision of information and reference services, etc.


5.     Archival Studies


Archives is a collection of historical documents and records about a place, organization, etc. Archival Studies is the study and theory of developing and curating archives. The discipline seeks to study and improve methods for storing, preserving and cataloguing archival material. An archival record preserves data that is not intended to change. In order to be of value to society, archives must be trustworthy. Therefore, an archivist has a responsibility to authenticate archival materials, such as historical documents, and to ensure their reliability, integrity, and usability. Archival records must accurately represent the activity they were created for and be preserved in usable condition. It is standard practice for all governments to establish an archive which collects and stores all government papers, communications, etc. For example, the National Archives of India (New Delhi) has a comprehensive collection of government records which is of great value to researchers especially in history. Nowadays, many organizations and even academic institutions have been building archives. Archival material could be considered a special kind of library material and as such most of the practices of libraries do apply to archives as well. However, since the primary objective of archives is long term preservation of historical records, preservation techniques, techniques of mending and repairing records and digitization of records assume greater importance in the context of archival studies. In addition archival material is also characterized by the kind of information and data they contain ranging from e.g. an official letter from a government agency to an individual or organization to land records, etc. The nature of content and material call for standards different from those employed in the context of libraries with large collections of printed books. The study of such standards (e.g. EAD – Encoded Archival Description – is a metadata standard for archival material) also forms a part of Archival Studies.


6. Summary


This unit has examined in some detail some of the Information disciplines and their scope. It is common practice today to bring all the four major areas, viz., Library & Information Science (LIS), Information Studies (Information Science), Archival Studies and Knowledge Management under the same umbrella and offer each as a specialized programme. Evidently there are many common areas and as such some of the course could be common to all the different programmes. However, Knowledge Management (KM) is so much more specialized that it is also often offered as a course in business school programmes (MBA programme). Only a few LIS schools in India offer KM as an elective / core course within their Master’s programme. The next unit in this module presents an overview of the discipline of KM.

you can view video on The Information Disciplines


  • Bates, M.J. (2007). “Defining the information disciplines in encyclopedia development” Information Research, 12(4) paper colis29. [Available at http://InformationR.net/ir/12-4/colis/colis29.html]
  • Adapted from Bates, M.J. (2007). “Defining the information disciplines in encyclopedia development” Information Research, 12(4) paper colis29. [accessed 07 April 2014 at http://InformationR.net/ir/12-4/colis/colis29.html]
  • Hjorland, Birger (2012). A fascinating field and a pragmatic enterprise. (In the foreword to Introduction to Information Science by David Bawden and Lyn Robinson. – London: Facet Publishing. — p. xxi – xxiii)
  • Borko, H. (1968). Information science: what is it? American Documentation, V. 19(1); p. 3-5.
  • Quoted in Lima, Gercina Angel Borem and Raghavan, K. S. Information Retrieval and Cognitive Research In: Knowledge Organization: International Journal. Vol. 31 ( 2); 2004; p. 98-105)
  • Quoted in Lima, Gercina Angel Borem and Raghavan, K. S. Information Retrieval and Cognitive Research In: Knowledge Organization: International Journal. Vol. 31 ( 2); 2004; p. 98-105)