My research takes a social informatics perspective on the relationships and interactions between information-centric communities, information and communication technologies (ICTs), and the information behaviour of their users. I am also interested in digital libraries, social media, online information sharing, and social and community theories in library and information science. My current focus is on the practice and support of information and knowledge sharing across the boundaries that may exist between communities (especially online), and the roles that boundary-spanning individuals and ICTs play in such sociotechnical practices, particularly in the contexts of everyday life. My research takes a methodological and epistemological approach based in social perspectives to information science, including those offered by social informatics and social constructionism. I draw on literature, theories, and concepts from social informatics, sociology, knowledge management, and information behaviour, and use mixed methods research designs to help provide a fuller understanding of the social and sociotechnical contexts of ICTs and of information behaviours and activities in these contexts.
My recent research (including my dissertation) focuses on how key individual and social phenomena affect motivation, participation, sharing, and ICT use in information-centric community environments, and the roles played by ICT infrastructure within and across community boundaries. This research is both theoretical and practical and draws on Star’s boundary object theory—particularly the concepts of translation, coherence, and convergence—along with theories and concepts of information-centric communities, including Strauss’s social worlds framework and Burnett and Jaeger’s theory of information worlds. Following ethnographic, mixed methods research designs—including content analysis, surveys, ethnographic observations, and semi-structured interviews—I examine (a) whether information-centric online communities and the ICTs that support them act as boundary objects, and if so, how; (b) what roles they play in the processes of translation and coherence of norms, values, behaviours, and activities between existing communities and in the potential convergence of new communities; and (c) the roles of the characteristics and boundaries of users and users’ communities in the practice and support of their information and knowledge sharing behaviours.
In my ongoing research, I look to further our theoretical and practical understanding of community boundaries and boundary spanning in the sociotechnical, organizational, and cultural contexts of information-centric, ICT-supported online communities, taking a sociotechnical perspective drawing on social informatics and information behaviour research. Over time, I intend to continue to examine the sociotechnical interactions between information-centric online communities, the ICTs and infrastructure that support then, users’ information and knowledge sharing behaviours, the social and emotional motivations of users to share and engage (or not to), and users’ information value judgments, all with a sensitivity to the community boundaries that information may or may not cross.
Further details of my research interests, agenda, and activities can be found in my full portfolio, including my full research statement, details of publications and presentations completed, and my CV.
Research Projects and Experiences
My research agenda builds on the following research projects and experiences, as documented in my publications and presentations, as well as in work in preparation / under review:
Exploring Socio-Emotional Motivations, Information Sharing, and Community Coherence in Academia StackExchange (ongoing since July 2016): This project looks to further our understanding of the social and emotional reasons and motivations that lead users to ask and answer questions and otherwise participate, interact, and share information on social questioning-and-answering sites. It employs content analysis, a survey, and semi-structured interviews to explore users’ socio-emotional motivations and the influence of these motivations on the potential coherence of communities around their questioning, answering, and interactions in the Academia section of StackExchange, a social Q&A site for academics and higher education students. Analysis draws from the literature on socio-emotional motivations, Burnett and Jaeger’s theory of information worlds, and the concept of coherence from Star’s boundary object theory. I am grateful for funding from a Support for the Advancement of Scholarship (SAS) Grant provided by the University of Alberta Faculty of Education.
Immigrants’ Information Values, Sharing, and Cultural Memory: Interactions with ICT Use in an Online Community (ongoing since September 2015): This is collaborative research with Alyssa Hyduk (my research assistant for 2015–16 and a MLIS student at the University of Alberta) investigating how the information and communication technologies used by immigrant and expatriate members of an online community interact with the information values and information sharing behaviours of community members and the cultural memory established by the community. We are drawing on Burnett and Jaeger’s theory of information worlds and key concepts from the literature on cultural memory. This project is partially funded through a Start Up Grant provided to me by the University of Alberta Faculty of Education.
The Roles of Digital Libraries as Boundary Objects Within and Across Social and Information Worlds (completed July 2014): My dissertation research focused on the roles that two digital libraries, LibraryThing and Goodreads, play as boundary objects in facilitating translation, coherence, and convergence in pre-existing and new emergent communities. In this study I drew on Star’s boundary object theory, Strauss’s social worlds framework, and Burnett and Jaeger’s theory of information worlds. Three roles were identified: (a) establishing community and organizational structure; (b) facilitating users’ sharing of information values; and (c) building and maintaining social ties, networks, and community culture. I am grateful for funding support that was provided by a Beta Phi Mu Eugene Garfield Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship and a Florida State University Esther Maglathlin Doctoral Research Scholarship.
Quality Evaluation of Health Answers in Social Q&A: A Comparison Between Health Reference Librarians, Nurses, and Questioners (Jan 2011 - Apr 2013): This project was collaborative research with Sanghee Oh (PI) and Yong Jeong Yi that investigated the influence of social media in and on health information seeking and sharing behaviours. We compared health reference librarians, nurses, and questioners’ quality evaluations of answers to questions on Yahoo! Answers, a social Q&A Web site. We found both objective and subjective strategies have a place in the seeking, sharing, and evaluation of information. The project was funded by a Florida State University First Year Assistant Professor (FYAP) grant awarded to Sanghee Oh.
Virtual Scientific Teams: Life-Cycle Formation and Long-Term Scientific Collaboration (Jan 2010 - Aug 2012): I was a graduate research assistant for this National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded 2½ year project (#0942855) with numerous Florida State University iSchool faculty under the leadership of Kathy Burnett (PI). We aimed to identify what social and organizational factors best support the transition from short-term, experiment focused, virtual scientific collaborations to long-term productive, innovative programs of scientific research. We found that successful juggling of, bridging between, and adapting to multiple communities and lifecycles increases the likelihood of a team’s successful transition. We also developed models of the data curation practices and quality perceptions of the condensed matter physics community.