Adam Worrall

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My dissertation study was entitled The Roles of Digital Libraries as Boundary Objects Within and Across Social and Information Worlds. You can read the abstract below, read a short report prepared for interested participants in the study, review publications and presentations related to my dissertation, use the table of contents to read the chapters of my dissertation individually, or download my entire dissertation as a PDF. My dissertation is also available through ProQuest’s Dissertations and Theses database (under #3638098).


View the slides from my public presentation as part of my successful dissertation defense at Florida State University on July 3, 2014.


Digital libraries must support the existing and emergent communities they serve, lest social opportunities to seek, use, and share information and knowledge become diminished compared to physical libraries. Despite many calls for a social view of digital libraries and the rise of social informatics and sociotechnical systems research, there is continuing need to examine how digital libraries support communities and facilitate collaboration. This research improves our understanding of the organizational, cultural, collaborative, and social contexts of digital libraries, conceptualizing social digital libraries to include content, services, and organizations, with a focus on facilitating information and knowledge sharing.

A sequential mixed-methods design, drawing from the tenets of social informatics and social constructionism, explores and describes two cases of social digital libraries, LibraryThing and Goodreads, under a theoretical framework focusing on Star’s boundary object theory and incorporating Strauss’s social worlds perspective and Burnett and Jaeger’s theory of information worlds. This framework conceives of social digital libraries adapting to the local needs of many communities, reconciling and translating meanings across them; supporting coherent norms, types, values, behaviors, and organizations; serving as sites and technologies for information behavior and activities; and supporting convergence of broader communities around their use.

Content analysis of messages in five LibraryThing and four Goodreads groups, a structured survey of users, and semi-structured qualitative interviews with users identifies three roles LibraryThing and Goodreads play, as boundary objects, in facilitating and supporting translation, coherence, and convergence: (a) establishing community and organizational structure; (b) facilitating users’ sharing of information values; and (c) building and maintaining social ties, networks, and community culture. Potential implications for digital library design and practice include highlighting translation processes and resources; providing user profiles and off-topic spaces and encouraging their use; taking a sociotechnical approach that tailors technology and community features to the right audiences; and facilitating the establishment of shared structure, values, and ties and boundary spanning activities. Further research on social digital libraries and in social informatics and information behavior should examine deeper facets of these roles, other digital libraries with less overt social features, and other ICTs in light of the processes of coherence and convergence, taking a boundary-sensitive view of information phenomena in community and collaborative contexts.

Short Report

The following short reports (with minor changes between them) were prepared for those LibraryThing and Goodreads users and staff interested in the findings of the study:

Publications and Presentations

The following is a list of papers, talks, and posters that I have published and presented relating to my dissertation findings, theory, and/or methods. Further journal and conference paper publications on the findings of my dissertation are in preparation or under review, and will be posted here once available.

Refereed conference papers

  • Worrall, A. (2015). “Like a real friendship”: Translation, coherence, and convergence of information values in LibraryThing and Goodreads. In G. Olson (Chair), iConference 2015 proceedings, Newport Beach, CA, March 24–27, 2015. Champaign, IL: iSchools. Retrieved from
    • Presented select findings on the significant roles that LibraryThing and Goodreads play in the existing and emergent communities of their users. A willingness to negotiate and translate around differences in information values allowed for continued community existence and emergence and for common ground to be established. Similar to maintaining “a real friendship,” these processes are often invisible work.
  • Worrall, A. (2013). “Back onto the tracks”: Convergent community boundaries in LibraryThing and Goodreads. Paper presented at the 9th Annual Social Informatics Research Symposium: The Social Informatics of Information Boundaries, 76th ASIS&T Annual Meeting, Montreal, Canada, November 2, 2013.
    • Presented select findings from content analysis of messages posted by users of LibraryThing and Goodreads, using a framework of Star’s boundary object theory, Strauss’s social worlds perspective, and Burnett and Jaeger’s theory of information worlds. Three different types of community convergence were seen around values, structure, and social networks.
  • Worrall, A. (2013). Social digital libraries: Their roles within and across social worlds, information, worlds, and communities. In S. J. Cunningham & E. Rasmussen (Eds.), Proceedings of the Doctoral Consortium, JCDL 2013, the 13th ACM/IEEE Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (pp. 55–62), Indianapolis, IN, July 22, 2013.
    • Presented my dissertation research-in-progress, which helps to fill a continuing need for theoretical and practical research on the roles that digital libraries play in collaboration, communities, and other social contexts. Included a review of existing literature along with my research questions, research design, and expected benefits and contributions.

Invited journal articles

Refereed talks

  • Worrall, A. (2015). Encouraging and maintaining engagement in online communities: The importance of translation and coherence. In I. Arapakis, I. Lopatovska, & H. O’Brien (Eds.), iConference 2015 workshop proceedings: On the role of engagement in human information interaction: From research to implementation (pp. 18–20), Newport Beach, CA, March 24, 2015. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia. Retrieved from [View my presentation]
    • Argued that an important element of encouraging and maintaining engagement with an information-centric, ICT-supported online community is to support and facilitate the processes of translation and coherence.
  • Worrall, A. (2014). The meta-context of information behavior: The importance of multiple lenses and mixed methods tension. Lightning talk presentation given at the 14th Annual ASIS&T SIG USE Research Symposium: Context in Information Behavior Research, 77th ASIS&T Annual Meeting, Seattle, WA, November 1, 2014.
    • Presented an empirical example to strengthen the argument that tensions between methods and contexts in mixed methods research can lead to insight about what we might call the meta-context for information behavior, learning the most from our data and producing true, thick description.

Refereed posters

  • Worrall, A. (2016). Energizing engagement and motivation in information-centric online communities: LibraryThing, Goodreads, and the importance of boundary spanning. Poster presented at the 2016 Canadian Association for Information Science (CAIS) Annual Conference: Information Science in our Communities, Calgary, AB, June 1–3, 2016. [View poster]
    • Reports key implications for engagement and motivation in online communities drawn from my research on LibraryThing and Goodreads, including to highlight and facilitate the creation and sharing of translation processes and resources; make clear expressions of and continually negotiate community norms, values, and normative behaviours; and support and facilitate—but not force—social tie formation and everyday life information behaviour.
  • Worrall, A. (2014). The roles of digital libraries as boundary objects within and across social and information worlds. Poster presented in the ALISE / Jean Tague-Sutcliffe Doctoral Poster Competition at the 2014 Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) Annual Conference, Philadelphia, PA, January 21–24, 2014.
    • Reported on my dissertation study of LibraryThing and Goodreads. Findings show they play important roles in establishing community structure, values, and ties; digital library designs and services should support these. Implications exist for research and theory in social informatics, information behavior, and online communities.
  • Worrall, A. (2013). The role of digital libraries as boundary objects within and across communities [Poster]. In W. Moen (Chair), iConference 2013 proceedings (pp. 707–711), Fort Worth, TX, February 12–15, 2013. Champaign, IL: iSchools. doi:10.9776/13327 [View poster]
    • Presented work-in-progress examining the role of the LibraryThing and Goodreads digital libraries, as social phenomena and boundary objects, in information behaviors and activities taking place within, between, and across multiple existing and emergent communities, social worlds, and information worlds.

Non-refereed posters