To conduct research on a given topic and build our collective understanding of it, significant knowledge of what has come before is necessary. This chapter provides this necessary context, reviewing the literature of importance and relevance to the study of social digital libraries as boundary objects within and across social and information worlds. It first looks at digital libraries and differing conceptions held of them by researchers and practitioners. Next, conceptions of communities and collaboration, two phenomena of great contextual importance to social digital libraries, are examined. Further discussion of social digital libraries illustrates their place within this greater context. Previous research on social digital libraries, including studies, models, and frameworks with varying degrees of success, is reviewed next. The chapter then presents a brief review of literature on virtual book clubs followed by an extended review of boundary object theory, the central part of a well-grounded, context-sensitive, flexible theoretical framework for studying social digital libraries. The development of this framework based on boundary object theory, the social world perspective, and the theory of information worlds is also presented. The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of the implications of this framework for social digital libraries.
2.1. Digital Libraries
Bearman (2007) dates the term digital libraries to 1991, with common use dating to 1993. The research stream and concept can be extended further back (see Lynch, 2005) to Kahn and Cerf (1988); earlier work on databases, online public access catalogs, and information retrieval systems; and as far back as Licklider (1965), Bush (1945), and Otlet (see e.g. Rayward, 1997). Bush’s (1945) memex concept may not have been a digital library as we would see it today, but one can consider it a forerunner of digital libraries, information systems, and the Internet as a whole. Smith’s (1981, 1991) citation analysis of documents citing Bush’s ideas found citations picked up after 1980, which she attributes “at least in part to the association of Bush with concepts similar to those underlying hypertext” (p. 264), a key element in most modern digital libraries. She used content analysis to break citations into five categories; the majority fell into the first, historical background or perspective. This indicates Bush’s work as an important milepost in and beginning of the history of information systems and the understanding of the problems surrounding information organization, seeking, and use; it was seen as “the starting point of modern information science” (Smith, 1981, p. 352). Hypermedia (as discussed by Smith, 1991) and digital libraries (see Kahn & Cerf, 1988; Lynch, 2005) build on much of this work in information retrieval; Smith (1991, pp. 269–270) alludes to what would become digital libraries for specialized communities. Bush is an important founding influence on information science and a key originator of the concepts and ideas behind digital libraries.
“By the mid–1980s,” according to Lynch (2005, para. 4), “there were systems … that might reasonably be considered digital libraries at least by some definitions” and early concepts of what digital libraries might be. Kahn and Cerf (1988), providing the earliest modern conception, defined a digital library as “a rich collection of archival quality information … of current and possibly only transient interest” which blended “the conventional archive of current or historically important information and knowledge … with ephemeral material such as drafts, notes, memoranda and files of ongoing activity” (p. 3). Kahn and Cerf focused on the idea of a digital library as a collection of varied data, information, and knowledge, and as part of a broader Internet-based network of digital libraries.
2.1.2. Emergence: Two Differing Conceptions
When the term became common in the early-to-mid 1990s, U.S. federal agencies engaged in major funding efforts, under the Digital Library Initiative (DLI) banner, to spur the development of digital libraries. In these still relatively early years, “already the term … [was] used to describe [many] entities and concepts” (Borgman, 1999, p. 228). Reviewing these, Borgman found two differing conceptions of what a digital library is. One definition, followed by many researchers at the time, considered digital libraries as “[digital] content collected on behalf of user communities” (p. 229). This view developed out of a National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored “Social Aspects of Digital Libraries workshop” in 1995 (p. 234); it was a broad extension of Kahn and Cerf’s (1988) definition. Another conception, followed by many librarians and other practitioners, considered digital libraries as “institutions or services” (Borgman, 1999, p. 229). This conception stemmed from the Digital Library Federation’s (DLF) definition, first given by Waters (1998, as cited in Borgman, 1999, p. 236) who considered digital libraries as “organizations” which provided “resources” and various services—paralleling traditional libraries—surrounding “collections of digital works” that could be used “by a defined community or set of communities.” As Borgman stated (p. 236), this conception “captures a much broader sense of the term ‘library,’” but required there to be an institution offering services alongside the collection of digital content placed on the Internet.
Borgman (1999) believed much of the divide between and within the research and practice communities came from the wide variety and stages of work being done on digital libraries, in multiple disciplines and from multiple perspectives. Such digital library research and practice, from about 1995 to 2005, varied from theory- and model-building, to module development, to prototype construction, to entire system implementations, to studies of digital library use. Borgman found definitions had expanded beyond “enabling technologies” to include the contexts of digital library use—“social, behavioral and economic”—within the full cycle of information behavior and information resources ( p. 240), paralleling similar changes in the library and information science (LIS) field as a whole and in information behavior research (see e.g. Case, 2012; Courtright, 2008; Raber, 2003).
Digital library textbooks have pulled from both sides of the divide, but often retain bias towards content- and technology-centric conceptions. For example, Arms (2000) defined digital libraries as “a managed collection of information, with associated services, where the information is stored in digital formats and accessible over a network” (p. 2). This includes content- and service-based elements, but emphasizes the collection and the technology used to store, access, and organize it, as shown by Arms’s claim that “data … when organized systematically, becomes a digital library collection” (p. 2). Lesk (2005), writing five years later, employed a similar definition: “a collection of information which is both digitized and organized” (p. 2). While showing similar bias to Arms, Lesk listed content, access, and services as key elements of a digital library and discussed the “social effects” (p. 2) digital libraries can have on their users, user communities, and cultures. Despite this, both authors’ textbooks emphasized content, organization, and access over services, community, and culture.
While many of the tensions and divides between researchers, practitioners, and disciplines are still present, most in the digital library field have adopted broad definitions, including the ideas of both collections of content and services to users. The ACM/IEEE Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (JCDL), to give a notable example, “encompasses the many meanings of the term ‘digital libraries’” from information retrieval system and digital content collection to digital library institutions and digital content in social, cognitive, and organizational contexts (“About JCDL,” 2012), including each of the camps Borgman identified. This broad-based and flexible approach is seen in Bearman’s (2007) recent review of the field.
Bearman (2007) was not without views of what digital libraries are, how they should be conceived, and which contexts and aspects are most important. He maintained digital libraries are “not mere technical constructs” (p. 251), not simply information retrieval systems or databases; instead, they are inherently social organizations and environments, socially constructed (Talja et al., 2005; Tuominen & Savolainen, 1997) by users, communities, organizations, and other key stakeholders. His view required the inclusion of each of the camps Borgman identified: content collected for a community and services provided to the community by an organization or institution, with a focus on the social contexts and aspects of digital libraries. Such a consideration was far from new, as will be returned to in section 2.4. First, consideration of the two concepts of communities and collaboration is necessary, as important context for social digital libraries.
The concept of community is important in many different fields, but it is not one with a universal definition across or within disciplines. Sociology, concerned with human society and the communities they form, is often the source for conceptions of community adopted in LIS and cognate fields. Sociology featured 94 different definitions of community by the 1950s (Hillery, 1955); a common thread in all of these definitions was people, the human society sociology takes as its main interest. A majority of the definitions included elements of social interaction (97%), tie(s) between individuals (78% with both of these), and an “area” (73% with all three) (p. 118). Hillery concluded a core definition of community would include social interaction between individuals, within an area, with common ties.
Total agreement on these core areas is impossible to reach, even within the field of sociology. The 1970s were a period of tension for defining community; while common elements were similar to Hillery’s (see Jones, 1995, p. 21), there were tensions emerging underneath. The “ecological” approach popular in the first half of the 20th century, theorizing interpersonal ties, social structures, and social norms were weakened due to anomie caused by large aggregations into communities, had been called “into great doubt” (Fischer, 1975, p. 1321). Great numbers of personal ties and smaller groups were being found in large urban communities, leading to a “nonecological” approach to communities becoming prevalent (see also Wellman, 1982, 1999). Fischer (1975, p. 1321) presented an influential counterargument to these two approaches, feeling they had “a serious flaw” in either assuming the presence of anomie or ignoring ecological factors in communities. He proposed a “subcultural theory” of urbanism (p. 1323)—one which can be extended to all types of communities—drawing from both ecological and nonecological approaches. His theory concluded larger communities, such as cities, are composed of numerous smaller subcultural communities, each with somewhat different norms, social structures, and ties.
Others, influenced by Fischer’s theory, took a similar approach. Wellman (1982) argued for an emphasis on the “structures of communities” and “the larger institutional contexts in which … [community] networks were embedded” (p. 63). Wellman echoed Fischer in noting “community ties are not bound up in solidary clusters” and multiple community ties give “members ramifying, indirect connections to other social circles” ( p. 79). Besides a subcultural, multi-level, and social network approach to studying community, Wellman argued for studying the context of ties, given “ties link persons and not specific strands” (p. 79).
The following overview of community conceptions focuses on concepts having seen recent use in the LIS field or fields cognate to it. It draws on Ellis, Oldridge, and Vaconcelos’s (2004) review article but adds additional concepts found in the literature on information behavior, digital libraries, and knowledge management (KM).
2.2.1. Communities of Practice
Communities of practice (often abbreviated as CoPs) originated in the early 1990s out of Lave and Wenger’s studies of situated, organizational learning (Brown & Duguid, 1991; Cox, 2005), first published in 1991 (Lave & Wenger, 1991). CoPs are groups of people who share a practice—a broad activity all in the group are engaged in, often a profession—and who are learning this practice through situated, social learning and interaction (Brown & Duguid, 1991; Wenger, 1998). Emphasis on the situated learning element was strongest in Lave and Wenger’s (1991) initial formulation, where they focused on the process of legitimate peripheral participation (LPP) and on the reproduction of communities through it: newcomers to a community become acclimated and learn the practice from experienced members, similar to apprenticeship. Later perspectives and uses of CoPs (Brown & Duguid, 1998, 2001, 2002; Wenger, 1998, 2006; Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002) have been more ambiguous and less grounded in theory, focusing on the role such communities can play in knowledge management, sharing, and transfer within the broader organizations they are part of. These later views share affinity with Fischer’s (1975) subcultural theory and include at least two of the three characteristics discussed by Hillery (1955).
Many are critical of CoPs, arguing their true theoretical core has become lost in translation and ambiguity (Cox, 2005; Handley, Sturdy, Fincham, & Clark, 2006; Hughes, 2007; Murillo, 2011; Storberg-Walker, 2008), they lack a strong consideration of power issues (S. Fox, 2000; J. Roberts, 2006), and face difficulty in balancing emergent vs. managed communities (Chanal & Kimble, 2010; J. Roberts, 2006). Key originators of the CoP concept have criticized the shifts in its use over time (Duguid, 2005, 2008; Lave, 2008). The biggest shift, from an initial theoretical basis as an emergent phenomenon of situated learning to a prescriptive and pragmatic approach believing communities can be created and managed for the purpose of knowledge sharing, is a key limitation of CoPs. Most views of CoPs are limited in their definition of engagement and by focusing on practice.
Brown and Duguid’s (1998, 2001, 2002) revised version of CoPs has the most potential benefits for studying social digital libraries: it eliminates the strong limitations in learning, apprenticeship, LPP, or reproduction earlier versions have; includes a multi-level view with the introduction of networks of practice; grounds CoPs in KM concepts; and incorporates relevant research on common ground (cf. Bechky, 2003; Davenport & Prusak, 2000, p. 98; Olson & Olson, 2000, pp. 157–161; Wasko & Faraj, 2000), boundary spanners (cf. Brown & Duguid, 1998; Leonard-Barton, 1995; Levina & Vaast, 2005), and boundary objects (see section 2.7 below). Unfortunately, it relies on limited research and observation, is vague on the topic of engagement, (like all versions) struggles with the debate between emergent and designed / managed CoPs, and is not well-grounded in theory.
2.2.2. Virtual Communities
The concept of virtual communities is used in many disciplines, with researchers using different definitions but maintaining common characteristics (Ellis et al., 2004; Preece & Maloney-Krichmar, 2003). Rheingold (1993, republished in 2000) was an early user of the term, defining virtual communities as “computer-mediated social groups” ( p. xv) and as “social aggregations that emerge from the [Internet] when enough people carry on … public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace” ( p. xx). Such a definition features social interaction between individuals who form social ties, two of the three areas suggested as core to sociological definitions of community by Hillery (1955), and implies such communities are emergent social constructions (cf. Tuominen & Savolainen, 1997). Geographical boundaries were not a part of Rheingold’s (2000) conception. His conception falls within the subcultural view proposed by Fischer (1975): “there is no such thing as a single, monolithic, online subculture … it’s more like an ecosystem of subcultures” (Rheingold, 2000, p. xviii). Although Rheingold’s book focuses on the virtual community known as the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), he stressed the different subcommunities present within—and often across—its boundaries, a view in clear agreement with Fischer (1975) and Wellman (1982).
Virtual communities have, of course, shifted since 1993. Ellis et al. (2004) discussed the concept’s relations with other community concepts, indicating the “growing up” of virtual communities as a concept and as a social phenomenon. Kraut, Wang, Butler, Joyce, and Burke (2008) defined online communities as “large, persistent collections of individuals with common or complementary interests whose primary method of communication is over the Internet” (p. 1); social interaction and social ties were included, but again a geographical area was not. Common replacements for the latter as motivation and support for the community to organize—and as potential limits to the concept’s applicability—include a “shared goal, interest, need, or activity”; “repeated [and] active participation”; “strong emotional ties”; “access to shared resources”; “reciprocity of information, support, and services”; and “shared context” in the form of “conventions, language, [and] protocols” (Whittaker, Isaacs, & O’Day, 1997, p. 29). Haythornthwaite’s (2007) focus on social interactions and ties between members fell closer to prior sociological definitions of community, discarding most of Whittaker et al.’s (1997) additional characteristics. Others associated with LIS, sociology, science and technology studies (STS), and computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW) have stressed the boundaries of virtual communities and how they are crossed (or not) as an important factor (Burnett et al., 2001; Star et al., 2003). Burnett, Dickey, Kazmer, and Chudoba (2003) considered virtual communities as “consistent with the concept of a community of practice” (Virtual Community section, para. 3), but virtual communities breach most of the limitations of the latter discussed above.
The concept of arenas was developed by Strauss, Schatzman, Bucher, Ehrlich, and Sabshin (1964), who found existing models of hospitals to be lacking for explaining “psychiatric philosophies and … associated daily practice” (p. 3). They developed arenas to examine the “social organization” and “social process[es]” around psychiatric philosophies (p. 14), focusing on levels of agreements and negotiations, including of norms, rules, and values often taken for granted. External and internal interactions and negotiations between smaller subgroups of the organization were included. Strauss et al. argued the arena concept could be extended beyond hospitals to looser and more informal “organizations” such as professions, hobbyists, and enthusiasts. Arenas parallel later work on CoPs (Ellis et al., 2004) and foreshadow later work in organizational science, STS, and KM, albeit each of these placing different spins on similar broad ideas. From a sociological perspective, arenas provide an approach to communities similar to Fischer’s (1975) subcultural theory; using the arena concept, one could apply multiple levels of analysis in examining an organization, its subunits, and any superordinate units. It includes all three of Hillery’s (1955) core criteria: social interaction, ties between individuals (via the organization), and a form of area (the arena), although not always a geographic one. Arenas include contextual factors of interest—agreements, norms, rules, commitments, and interactions—which are similar to the processes of key interest in CoPs or the concepts within the theory of information worlds (discussed in sections 2.2.6 and 2.8.2). Arenas have broad application, but their focus on organizations, agreements, and commitments limits their flexibility.
2.2.6. Information Worlds
While its origination differs, a related concept to social worlds is information worlds, developed as a theory by Burnett and Jaeger (2008; Jaeger & Burnett, 2010) and discussed at length in section 2.8.2 below. As a conception of community, it includes social interaction, ties between individuals, and a bounded—albeit non-physical—area, the information world. While it includes all three of Hillery’s (1955) core elements, it treats each one in line with the subcultural theory proposed by Fischer (1975). The normative behavior in and mutual influence between information worlds (see section 2.8.2 below) are indicative of how such worlds are socially constructed (cf. Talja et al., 2005; Tuominen & Savolainen, 1997).
Due to Burnett and Jaeger drawing on Chatman’s (1991, 1992, 1996, 2000) small worlds and Habermas’s lifeworlds, the concept and theory of information worlds are compatible with Strauss’s (1978) conceptions of arenas and social worlds at multiple levels and scales of analysis. The theory’s focus on information behavior echoes Shibutani’s (1955) earlier focus on communication, albeit Burnett and Jaeger’s work has stronger grounding in previous theoretical and practical work in LIS. This grounding is stronger and firmer than that of CoPs in KM, given the latter did not start out as a KM theory (as seen in Lave & Wenger, 1991; see also the discussion by Cox, 2005). Virtual communities can be considered “public information worlds rooted in group-based social interaction … [and] almost textbook examples of small information worlds,” as discussed by Jaeger and Burnett (2010, p. 93); a social network perspective to studying one or more information worlds would be compatible (albeit not required). The theory and concept are compatible with and can incorporate many of the other concepts reviewed above.
The main weaknesses of information worlds are its foci on norms, types, values, information, and information behavior; the theory and concept have less direct applicability in studies where knowledge, learning, or other phenomena are of greater interest. Their strength for LIS studies and studies of digital library communities are in their flexibility and compatibility with other conceptions, theories, and perspectives, while focusing on specific analysis of norms, types, values, behaviors, and boundaries. Combined with other theories and concepts, information worlds can serve as part of a strong theoretical framework for social digital libraries, discussed later in this chapter.
Collaboration is another concept important to social digital libraries, one “as common and natural a form of information behavior as individual seeking” (Talja, 2002, p. 9). Although kinds of and contexts for collaboration are well-defined—e.g. scientific collaboration (Sonnenwald, 2007)—it is rare for the root concept to be specified in great detail and “there is no widely accepted definition of collaboration” (Hansen & Järvelin, 2005, p. 1102). Nevertheless, there is significant literature discussing the concept of collaboration in multiple research circles.
The literature most germane to collaboration in and around digital libraries is from information seeking and retrieval, computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW), and scientific collaboration research. Hansen and Järvelin (2005) provided a useful review of collaboration in the first two of these areas, noting “the importance of personal contacts and discussions” (pp. 1102–1103), the key role of “gatekeepers in organizations” (p. 1103; cf. Brown & Duguid, 1998; Leonard-Barton, 1995; Levina & Vaast, 2005), and research on the communication patterns and networks in an organization. Research had found information sharing takes place in multiple ways (including formal and informal), using multiple source types, and at multiple levels (Hansen & Järvelin, 2005). Talja’s (2002) in-depth study found sharing and collaboration could be (a) strategic, consciously “maximizing efficiency”; (b) paradigmatic, establishing a new research area, field, or practice; (c) directive, “between teachers and students”; or (d) social, building relationships and communities without a strict goal or task (p. 4); sharing could also be nonexistent. Social interaction is more important in sharing “interpreted information” than factual information (Hansen & Järvelin, 2005, p. 1104), similar to findings on the difficulty in sharing tacit knowledge (Nonaka, 1994). Hansen and Järvelin’s (2005) review of CSCW studies found cooperation and collaboration fell on a set of continua: asynchronous vs. synchronous activities, traditional communication vs. CMC; loosely vs. tightly coupled activities; and different degrees of awareness of information and information sources. This view provides a large amount of flexibility, but without detailing what occurs during collaboration beyond sharing information. An extensive review of CSCW by Mills (2010) included human-to-human communication, coordination of common activities, access to information (topical and to support the collaboration), and support for interactions—and the resulting collaboration—across space and time under a view of collaboration.
Sonnenwald’s (2007) definition of scientific collaboration, presented in the context of a thorough literature review, is similar to the CSCW-based definition given by Mills (2010): “interaction taking place within a social context among two or more scientists,” with this interaction facilitating “the sharing of meaning and completion of tasks,” tasks part of “a mutually shared, superordinate goal” (Sonnenwald, 2007, p. 645). Hansen and Järvelin’s (2005) “broad and preliminary definition” for collaboration (p. 1102)—synthesized from the information retrieval, information seeking, and CSCW literature—was similar; they required information access, a specific problem or task at hand, and human beings as direct or indirect information sources. They stressed flexibility in the information seeking environment and the specifics of the source. This definition, much like Mills’s (2010), is still restricted to collaboration taking place around a specific problem or task. Sonnenwald’s (2007) definition—if “scientists” are replaced by “people”—lacks the information access requirement of Hansen and Järvelin (2005) but is otherwise compatible.
All four authors appear to consider serendipitous information sharing—e.g. happening to come across a research article on a topic which a colleague is researching, choosing to send the link to them—to be “less” than collaboration. Serendipity is common as individual information behavior (see Case, 2012, p. 101; Erdelez, 2005; Foster & Ford, 2003) and “an integral part of the creative process” across fields (p. 321); it is accounted for in Talja’s (2002) social information sharing category. There is no obvious reason why it would not occur or should be ignored in the context of collaborative information behavior, if a broad view of the latter is adopted.
Talja’s (2002) separation of serendipity into a separate category implies collaboration may differ by type, level, or degree, an idea present in Gunawardena, Weber, and Agosto’s (2010) classification of coordination, cooperation, and collaboration as separate activities. Drawing on Maienschein and Mattesich’s work, they argued groups who do not choose their goal are engaged not in collaboration but in cooperation. All three concepts included information exchange, activities of mutual benefit, and a common purpose; coordination did not include sharing of resources, and only collaboration included “enhancing the capacity of another” (Gunawardena et al., 2010, p. 212). When moving from cooperation to collaboration, relationships became more integrated; risk increased; new structures were created; commitment to common goals increased; planning was more comprehensive; and resources, responsibilities, and authority were shared and pooled more often. Gunawardena et al. stated such distinctions were not often made in studies, leading to different definitions in different contexts. In trying to build such a consensus, they adapted other definitions and defined collaboration as “human behavior that makes a substantial contribution toward the advancement of a research project … with respect to a mutually shared superordinate research goal and which takes place in a research setting” (Gunawardena et al., 2010, pp. 213–214). This definition again requires a common goal, task, or activity to be completed through collaboration; while focused on the research setting, it provides a useful summary of the broad consensus of Hansen, Järvelin, Mills, and Sonnenwald. There is still disagreement on if common access to information sources is required and if serendipity is true collaboration or a form of coordination.
2.6. Virtual Book Clubs
Before considering appropriate theoretical grounding for a study of social digital libraries, another area of research requires brief discussion. As explained later in Chapter 3, this dissertation study focuses on LibraryThing and Goodreads, two digital libraries and online communities for lovers of books and of reading, and on nine groups from the two sites. These groups can be conceived of as virtual book clubs, and so a short review of the literature in this area provides additional appropriate context. Most of this literature has focused on using virtual book clubs in K–12 or public library-based education and reading programs (e.g. Scharber, 2009; Scharber, Melrose, & Wurl, 2009) or on the practical implementation of virtual book clubs by libraries ( e.g. AuYeung, Dalton, & Gornall, 2007). These topics are not the focus of this dissertation, but a few other selections from the literature have considered users’ participation, interaction, or information behavior in the context of a virtual book club as community, as is of interest here.
Rehberg Sedo’s (2003) survey of 251 international readers and members of face-to-face and virtual book clubs, focused on reading practices, found that members participated in virtual book clubs to connect with others like them, for intellectual stimulation, for fun, to read books they would not read on a regular basis, and to talk with others about the books they were reading. The topic or choice of books the virtual book club was reading was a factor for a plurality of members. Discussion of the meaning and interpretation of books occurred for about half of the members, with many of these discussions bringing in personal opinions, feelings, and values. Differences in these, and the opportunity presented to learn new ideas and share new experiences, were valued by a majority of the club members in Rehberg Sedo’s study. She called for further research on virtual book clubs using mixed methods and to explore community phenomena (e.g. power hierarchies, identity and practice-making) in this context.
Rehberg Sedo edited a later book (Rehberg Sedo, 2011b) which includes, as part of the introduction, a brief review of additional studies that pay “critical attention to the social aspects of reading and [focus] on the discussions that take place within groups, their reading lists, and the contexts in which the reading takes place” (p. 10). Many of these are of face-to-face book clubs, including most of the historical and present-day studies reported in the book. Nevertheless, when taken as a whole they provide a clear view of how this subset of book club research sees the concept of community: it “take[s] many forms and serve[s] many purposes,” it can provide “emotional gratification … [and] a sense of belonging,” it can help one feel “part of something larger,” it can fulfill a “need for emotional connections with other people,” and it “is constructed and maintained socially” (p. 11). These are similar to the characteristics associated with online communities (see section 2.2 above).
Two chapters of the Rehberg Sedo (2011b) edited book examined online book discussions. Kiernan (2011) focused on the positive role of television media in encouraging reading, the impact of new readers and book club members on the culture of reading, the view of publishers and reviewers in this context, and the influence of book clubs associated with television media. Rehberg Sedo’s (2011a) own study (conducted in 2002 and 2003) of a book club dedicated to young adult (YA) literature, where the members served as “cultural intermediaries … between the online [YA] literature reading community and the off-line communities in which young adults live” (p. 102), explored issues of agency, power, norms, rules, and authority uncovered through the club’s discursive practices, simultaneously “oppress[ing] and giv[ing] voice to individual readers” (p. 102) and “establish[ing] and reinforc[ing] cultural authority” for the intermediaries (p. 118). The dynamics of norms, rules, values, and practices present and socially constructed within the book club were impacted by, and impacted on, the broader communities and society that intermediaries were part of. This finding is in clear agreement with the scholarship established around social informatics, social constructionism, the social worlds perspective, and the theory of information worlds (the latter two mentioned in section 2.2 and discussed in greater depth below).
Fister’s (2005) article provides a deep description of one e-mail list-based “reading list” and virtual book club, focusing on those features that made it an online community. Reviewing her article, one sees that participants shared humor and in-jokes, discussed their everyday life often, had established many social ties with others, felt solidarity in their reading “addiction,” and valued the group for providing emotional support, all common characteristics of strong, established online communities. Fister described the practices by which the group read books together, led by volunteer “question maestros” who would lead and moderate discussions and provide additional material and guidance as necessary and desired (p. 306). Many of the characteristics Fister identified in this group are in common with those Rehberg Sedo found in her study and discussed in the introduction to the book she edited.
Elsayed (2010) surveyed the moderators of seven online Arab book clubs, augmenting this data with observation of the book clubs’ online spaces. His study found low participation rates and discussions of mixed depth, many being superficial at best; this proves not all virtual book clubs are strong online communities with many social ties like those identified by Fister and Rehberg Sedo. Elsayed nevertheless concluded online book clubs were “a promising environment for promoting reading” and for motivating the contribution and exchange of ideas, information, and knowledge (p. 246). Elsayed explored the processes at work in the book clubs for choosing which books are of interest or should be read as a group, with some variety in these appearing across the groups but member voting being most common; and for discussions of books once chosen and read, which in some groups was moderator-led and in others was more open.
While Foasberg (2012) focused her study of reading challenges and the social dynamics and processes behind them on book blogs instead of book clubs, it shares many similarities with the work of Rehberg Sedo, Fister, and Elsayed. Foasberg observed and described three specific case studies of book challenges in depth. She found such challenges allowed virtual book club members to discuss what they were reading and form bonds and social ties with readers who shared interests, values, or beliefs. Many challenges, while blog-based, linked to LibraryThing, Goodreads, or other social media venues (e.g. Twitter) as an additional venue for discussion. She stated that generalizing “about the communities formed by reading challenges is difficult” (p. 40), but that common elements existed: different levels of participation, updates and discussion via social media, and—for about a fourth of the challenges—a form of prize or reward for completing the challenge. Foasberg believed the communities that emerged were quite different from those formed from social network-based sites (which LibraryThing and Goodreads can be considered): “the challenge [did] not form a boundary to the community,” since blogs were open to others who were not participating in a given challenge and allowed for a broad, “content-focused” community to develop around them (p. 50). Foasberg suggested further ethnographic research on reading challenges, with emphasis on those taking place via book blogs.
Research by Greene (2012) explored how youths’ identities were constructed in a virtual book club on Facebook. While not examining a broad range of information behavior, Greene was explicit in positioning virtual book clubs as online communities and considered the influence of a sense of community on identity construction. She found emotional safety was present through emoticon and acronym use as normative behavior; users took on roles, such as a caregiver expressing a mothering stance as part of discussions. Greene further examined the roles played by facilitation and gender perspective in constructing identity, but these parts of her study are of less direct relevance to this review.
In sum, the existing virtual book club literature has provided thick description of cases of such groups and shown the emergence of general characteristics of users’ participation, interaction, and information behavior, and of the communities that have been formed around and within such groups. None of the known literature has placed such a study in the context of well-grounded theory (with the exception of Greene’s work, not yet published in journal article or book form). Except for some hints in Foasberg’s study of book blogs, none of the literature has examined the roles played by a given venue or technology (e-mail list, social network, blog, etc.) in the communities and information behaviors of members of a virtual book club, or the roles that might be played by a social digital library in such a group.
2.7. Boundary Object Theory
Boundary object theory, first developed in science and technology studies (STS) by Susan Leigh Star, can be a strong element of a well-grounded, context-sensitive, flexible theoretical framework for studying social digital libraries. It has been applied to and extended within many disciplines, including library and information science (LIS), to study the interactions taking place and the objects people create and use in the context of crossing the boundaries of different social worlds and communities. Within LIS and cognate fields, it has been applied to studying the information behavior of users, communities, and organizations; information systems that serve multiple social and information worlds; and interrelations and interactions between these two elements. This section reviews boundary object theory as developed by Star and Griesemer (1989; see also Star, 1989), how Star and others have developed it over time, and how researchers have applied it within LIS and related fields. It analyzes and evaluates the key concepts and propositions of the theory and its resulting strengths and weaknesses.
Star’s PhD education was in ethnographic sociology under Anselm Strauss at the University of California, San Francisco, earning her degree in 1983 (Zachry, 2008, p. 439). She had become interested in artificial intelligence and computer science after working with Carl Hewitt of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (p. 438). At the time of her development of boundary object theory, Star was an assistant professor of information and computer science at the University of California-Irvine (Star & Griesemer, 1989), working with Rob Kling and others in STS and the area since labeled “social informatics” (see Kling, 1999). In her career, she worked as faculty and conducted research in sociology, LIS, STS, social informatics, computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW), communication, and feminist studies before her unfortunate passing in 2010 (Clarke, 2010).
2.7.1. Core Concepts
There are four core concepts used in boundary object theory: social worlds, translation, boundary objects, and coherence / convergence (given separate names but the same concept). All were derived from the work of others, but the degrees of derivation and modification by Star and Griesemer (1989) vary.
18.104.22.168. Interessement and translation
Boundary object theory draws on the derived concepts of interessement and translation, the latter adapted for use in the theory. Interessement was first developed by Latour, Callon, and Law from multiple case studies of the sociology of scientific practice, as part of actor-network theory (ANT). Star and Griesemer (1989) defined it as follows:
[T]o create scientific authority, entrepreneurs gradually enlist participants (or in Latour’s word, ‘allies’) from a range of locations, re-interpret their concerns to fit their own programmatic goals and then establish themselves as gatekeepers (in Law’s terms, as ‘obligatory points of passage’) [(Callon & Law, 1982; Law, 1987; both as cited in Star & Griesemer, 1989, p. 389)] …. Latour and Callon have called this process interessement, to indicate the translation of the concerns of the non-scientist into those of the scientist. (p. 389)
Translation—also derived from the work of Latour, Callon, and Law on ANT—was defined in the context of multiple social worlds as “the task of reconciling [the] meanings” of objects, methods, and concepts across these worlds (Star & Griesemer, 1989, p. 388) so people can “work together” (p. 389), drawing on Strauss’s social worlds.
Translation and interessement as defined by Latour and his colleagues were limited to the study of scientists. Star and Griesemer (1989) felt an ecological approach to analysis within the social worlds framework (see Clarke & Star, 2008; Strauss, 1978) considering all possible viewpoints was a better approach, one which had no limitations on which individuals and social worlds could be studied. They extended the concepts to allow for multiple translations, gatekeepers, or “passage points” to exist between different social worlds (p. 390), corresponding to and going beyond Latour and Callon’s conception of interessement.
22.214.171.124. Boundary objects
The conception of boundary objects themselves, while a unique element of Star and Griesemer’s theory, was still derived from the work of Strauss on social worlds and Latour, Callon, and Law on interessement. Boundary objects were theorized to exist where social worlds intersected with each other, requiring a translation process or interessement to occur. As such, they could be considered an extension of the “passage points” of Law, although they do not serve an identical role (see Star & Griesemer, 1989, p. 390).
Boundary objects were defined as objects crossing the boundaries between multiple social worlds, used within and adapted to many of them “simultaneously” (Star & Griesemer, 1989, p. 408) and “‘sit[ting] in the middle’ of a group of actors with divergent viewpoints” (Star, 1989, p. 46). They “adapt to local needs” within a social world but are “robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites” (p. 46). The boundaries of boundary objects themselves may vary in permeability and fixedness. Boundary objects can be either abstract, concrete, both simultaneously, or somewhere along a continuum between these extremes (Star & Griesemer, 1989, p. 408). For example, Star and Griesemer’s original case study identified maps of life zones in California as boundary objects. These were concrete for biologists because they were familiar with the ecological concepts they portrayed, but “highly abstract” for the public and professionals from other worlds who were not as familiar with the concept of life zones (p. 411). This conception was developed inductively based on the boundary objects identified in Star and Griesemer’s (1989) case study and on logical inferences from the work of Latour, Callon, Law, Strauss, and others. While the boundaries of the concept were at first restricted to studies of scientists—much like interessement—further applications and extensions of the theory have proved its generalizability to other settings.
126.96.36.199. Coherence and convergence
Another concept used in boundary object theory is coherence, derived from the concept of intersecting social worlds (Strauss) and the results of translation (Latour and colleagues). Star and Griesemer (1989, p. 390) stated the “coherence of sets of translations depends on the extent to which entrepreneurial efforts from multiple worlds can coexist,” with “an indeterminate number of coherent sets of translations” possible. While they never gave coherence an explicit, glossary-style definition, it is easy to determine coherence is the degree of consistency between different translations and social worlds. Boundary objects play a critical role “in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting social worlds” (p. 393).
Convergence is a more recent development—at least in name—extending coherence. It considers to what degree the “tools, systems, interfaces, and devices for storing, tracking, displaying, and retrieving information”—conceptualized as “information artifacts”—“are fitted to” the communities of users that create and work with them (Star et al., 2003, p. 244; see also Bowker & Star, 1999, pp. 46–49). Star and colleagues applied the concept of information worlds, as used but ill-defined by Chatman in her theory of normative behavior (see section 188.8.131.52), to the result of this convergence process. This view of convergence is a restatement of coherence, but from a different perspective. The starting point is the boundary objects themselves—in the guise of information artifacts—and not the social worlds. The focus is less on the translation process and more on the consistency between the results of the process and the communities—or social worlds—that are part of it. The difference between coherence and convergence is in perspective; the two as used by Star and her colleagues are not truly separate concepts.
While many theories have explicit propositions explaining the relations between their concepts (see Grover & Glazier, 1986; Meleis, 1991), the propositions of boundary object theory are implicit, requiring analysis to derive. Such an analysis identifies five relational propositions in the statements made by Star and Griesemer (1989): two propositions discussing the relation between boundary objects and social worlds, and three propositions discussing the role boundary objects play in the process of translation and in determining coherence. The following analysis draws from Meleis’s (1991) discussion of how theories should be evaluated.
184.108.40.206. Boundary objects’ role in translation and coherence
Star and Griesemer (1989, p. 393) further stated boundary objects’ structure “is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable, a means of translation. The creation and management of boundary objects is a key process in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting social worlds.” Three related claims are made:
- “the central cooperative task of social worlds which share the same space but different perspectives is the ‘translation’ of each others’ perspectives” (p. 412);
- translations are “perform[ed] … to craft objects containing elements which are different in different worlds,” i.e. boundary objects ( p. 412); and
- mismatches between the overlapping meanings and representations of these objects across social worlds “become problems for negotiation,” which to be successful (and maintain coherence) must take care to manage the boundary objects, their meanings and representations, and the interfaces they provide between social worlds (p. 412).
These statements, taken together, can be formally stated as three further propositions:
- P3: Boundary objects, due to their recognizability across social worlds, should facilitate translation and support a level of coherence between these worlds.
- P4: A successful translation and negotiation process is one supporting and maintaining a high level of coherence between social worlds.
- P5: A high level of coherence should result from careful management of the creation, crafting, meaning, and representation of boundary objects and the interfaces they provide between and across social worlds.
These propositions are what Meleis (1991) terms stochastic, because successful translation and high levels of coherence should occur, but are not guaranteed. Proposition 3 is not reversible, and other factors may correlate with the facilitation of translation and support of coherence, implying coexistence and substitutability. Contingencies impacting on Proposition 1—and the degree of success of boundary objects—may carry over to Proposition 3. Propositions 4 and 5 are reversible and coexisting, since a successful translation process, careful management of boundary objects, and a high level of convergence should correlate with each other. Proposition 4 is contingent on other potentially substitutable factors that may influence the success of the translation process, although these are not included in the theory. Proposition 5 is sufficient and necessary because all factors which could be considered would be placed by Star and Griesemer (1989) under the banner of careful management of boundary objects and their interfaces, at least within the probabilistic and stochastic confines of the proposition. This is despite Meleis’s (1991) statement that sufficient and necessary propositions are uncommon in social science; in this case the breadth of factors considerable under the careful management of boundary objects allows these limitations to be overcome.
As mentioned earlier, convergence and coherence can be considered the same concept from different perspectives. Social worlds and CoPs, while conceptualized by different researchers and having different definitions, were considered interchangeable by Bowker and Star (1999, p. 294). As such, Propositions 3, 4, and 5 about coherence could apply to convergence and CoPs, through substituting these terms for coherence and social worlds respectively. Having “use and practice fit design and access” (Star et al., 2003, p. 244) refers to the careful managing of how boundary objects and their interfaces are created, crafted, and represented, included in Proposition 5. Any relation between boundary objects, convergence, and information worlds as concepts is, however, a relation between boundary object theory and Chatman, Burnett, and Jaeger’s theories, which used the concept of information worlds; it is not a proposition within boundary object theory.
2.7.3. Theory as a Whole
Boundary object theory has many interrelations between its concepts, as seen above. These relations act in what Meleis (1991, p. 227) termed “a chain-link fashion”: Proposition 1 links boundary objects to social worlds; Proposition 2 explains the success (or not) of that link; Proposition 3 links boundary objects to coherence; Proposition 4 links successful translation and successful coherence; and Proposition 5 explains if the link between coherence, boundary objects, and social worlds is successful. The theory is based on and around these concepts, which are “concatenated” together (p. 227); boundary object theory is thus a concatenated theory. It takes a field approach in its construction, focusing “on the relationships between the phenomena and thus … [on explaining] the phenomena by the relationships” (Meleis, 1991, p. 227); it is also an explanatory theory (p. 229). Boundary object theory is an inductive grounded theory that takes advantage of the strengths of deductive and constructive reasoning to further its generalizability, applicability, and adaptability.
Star and Griesemer’s (1989) original application of boundary object theory was to an applied problem—translation by scientists between different social worlds—in the STS field. Boundary object theory has become a grand theory (as defined by Glazier & Grover, 2002) through its wide application in and extension by other disciplines, but could be placed within or near the category of middle-range theories due to its “substantive focus” (Meleis, 1991, p. 228) on the role of boundary objects in crossing social worlds; it does not try to explain everything about social worlds or boundary objects as a true grand theory would. This apparent duality shows in the propositions: they are not restricted to scientists and show high levels of substitutability and stochasticity, allowing for many and varied uses, interpretations, and extensions. The ecological approach taken by Star and Griesemer (1989), considering the view of every social world, allowed for wide application of their theory and for it to serve as a macrotheory (as defined by Meleis, 1991).
2.7.4. Further Development and Application
While Griesemer has not contributed further to boundary object theory, Star applied her theory and extended the scope of the problems it addresses. Her most cited work is the book Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences, written with Geoffrey Bowker (Bowker & Star, 1999); they conceived of classifications as boundary objects used across multiple CoPs, new classifications being created when existing systems come into conflict. Bowker and Star introduced the concept of boundary infrastructures: sets or “regimes of boundary objects”—such as information objects and systems—which support multiple CoPs and social worlds (p. 313). Star applied boundary object theory in the context of CoPs (Bowker & Star, 1999, p. 294; Star, 2002, p. 118) and information worlds (Star et al., 2003), and in studying artificial intelligence (Star, 1989), electronic community systems (Star & Ruhleder, 1996), and digital libraries (Star et al., 2003), the latter introducing the revised concept of convergence. Her work explored the difficulties faced by designers and developers of information systems in supporting, in social and organizational contexts, successful translation between and coherence across the multiple social worlds and communities the systems are intended to serve.
Star believed boundary objects are “interpretively flexible” in many but not all locations and differ in their nature and shape “depending on the work or informational needs of the different social groups” part of their creation and use (Zachry, 2008, p. 452). Before her passing (see Clarke, 2010), Star was working on a book extending boundary object theory and exploring “the idea of different types of boundary objects” (Zachry, 2008, p. 454). In one of her last published papers (Star, 2010), she argued further consideration of types of boundary objects and their “material/organizational structure” (p. 602) was needed. She was interested, building on her work with Bowker, in what one might call the lifecycle of standardization of boundary objects: how they progress through standardization attempts, “the back and forth between ill structured and well structured,” and the eventual creation of “new boundary objects” by so-called “residual categories”—outsiders and others on the periphery (p. 614).
Other researchers have applied boundary object theory or developed it further; citation analysis using Web of Knowledge shows such usage has continued to increase, with about three times as many citations of Star and Griesemer’s (1989) paper in 2013 (150) as 2005 (53). The majority of use of boundary object theory and/or its concepts has been in the fields of management, history and philosophy of science, LIS, computer science, and sociology. Applications of boundary object theory have included the study of communities, collaboration, organizations, information systems (in various guises), and information behavior.
While reviewing all 1,446 total citations (as of June 2014) is beyond the scope of this chapter, the studies of Bødker and Christiansen (1997), Bannon (1997), and Lutters and Ackerman (2007) in CSCW are worth noting; the latter provided a brief, but useful summary of boundary object theory’s application in CSCW research (pp. 344–345). In management and knowledge management Pawlowski has applied the theory alongside CoPs (Pawlowski & Robey, 2004; Pawlowski, Robey, & Raven, 2000), and many others have applied the concepts from boundary object theory to KM concerns. This includes the work of Brown and Duguid (1996, 1998); Wenger (1998, 2000); Bechky (2003); Hislop (2004); Kimble and Hildreth (2005); Levina and Vaast (2005); and Kimble, Grenier, and Goglio-Primard (2010) on boundary objects, gatekeepers, and boundary spanners in KM. The LIS field has examined the information behavior of users, communities, and organizations and how it relates to information systems—including databases and digital libraries—serving as and containing boundary objects. A notable study is Van House’s (2003) conceiving of the Calflora subset of the University of California–Berkeley Digital Library as a boundary object. She found trust to be a major issue, arguing to build such trust, developers of digital libraries should conceptualize them and have them act as boundary objects: converging users’ social and information worlds together and supporting their current and emerging work processes, while retaining a common system identity. Fleischmann (2007a, 2007b) proposed a theoretical framework he termed “boundary objects with agency” to examine the embedded values in digital libraries, building on social worlds, boundary objects, and the concept of nonhuman agency present in actor-network theory.
Further developments of the theory have come from many authors. Henderson (1991) added her concept of “conscription devices” (p. 452): deliberately constructed objects that “enlist group participation” and contain “knowledge created and adjusted through group interaction … [with] a common goal” (p. 456). Akkerman and Bakker (2011) conceptualized transformation as one of four learning processes taking place around boundaries and boundary objects. They identified five potential stages: (a) confrontation, where “intersecting worlds [are forced] to seriously reconsider their current practices” (p. 15); (b) recognizing and building a shared problem space, including boundary objects as a part of this; (c) hybridization, where a new world begins to form around boundary objects; (d) crystallization, where the new hybrid world becomes “embed[ded] … in practice so that it has real consequences” (p. 17); and, in some cases, (e) “maintaining uniqueness of the intersecting practices,” where the established worlds reinforce themselves as distinct (p. 18). Akkerman and Bakker’s stage view of transformation is similar to Star’s (2010) recent discussion of the life cycle of boundary objects and the social worlds they interact with.
Researchers have further developed the theory by exploring the degree of flexibility boundary objects have, an area Star argued needed further study (Zachry, 2008). Fujimura’s (1992) work provides an early example of this: she argued boundary objects are too flexible, conceiving of “standardized packages” (p. 176); they combined multiple boundary objects with “standardized methods … in ways which further restrict and define each object,” reducing the possible interpretations without “entirely defin[ing] them” (p. 176). Gal, Yoo, and Boland (2004) looked at the flexibility of boundary objects, taking the concept of information artifacts (also seen in Star et al., 2003) as ever-changing boundary objects that changed the social worlds, information worlds, and information behavior of the various stakeholders in a construction project. They developed a model of “the dynamic interplay” among changes and adjustments in social identity, infrastructure, community, and the boundary objects themselves (p. 198). Lutters and Ackerman (2007) argued, based on empirical evidence, that flexibility for boundary objects in the situated context of negotiation and deviations from official process was necessary. They believed boundary objects should be viewed through a temporal lens: “boundary objects existed within a history greater than themselves” (p. 366).
Carlile (2002) was interested in the categories of boundary objects identified by Star and Griesemer (1989), arguing successful boundary objects—producing high levels of coherence and convergence—have three key characteristics: (a) “a shared syntax or language” for knowledge representation (Carlile, 2002, p. 451), shortened to “representing” ( p. 453); (b) a way for “individuals to specify and learn about their differences and dependencies across a given boundary” (p. 452), shortened to “learning”; and (c) a facilitation of “individuals … jointly transform[ing] their knowledge” (p. 452), shortened to “transforming” (p. 453). His work has been often cited in management and knowledge management, where he has continued his research and developed a framework describing “three progressively complex boundaries … syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic,” alongside “three progressively complex processes … transfer, translation, and transformation” (Carlile, 2004, p. 555).
2.7.5. Limitations and Criticisms
While boundary object theory has been praised by most, a few researchers have criticized the theory—either as a whole or elements of it—and pointed out its limitations. First, Fujimura (1992) and Lee (2007) have questioned if a fully ecological approach can be taken, Fujimura contending whichever viewpoint or social world there was the most data about would be unavoidably central to any study of boundary object(s), despite Star and Griesemer’s best efforts. Second, the degree of flexibility of boundary objects has been questioned. Fujimura (1992) believed they had been conceptualized as having too wide a “margin of negotiation” (p. 175), and their weak, flexible structure across social worlds would hamper their possible success in encouraging continuing coherence between social worlds. In contrast, Lee (2007) believed boundary objects were not flexible enough. Gal, Yoo, and Boland (2004) and Lutters and Ackerman (2007) stressed at least some boundary objects must remain flexible in situated and temporal contexts, but the processes of standardization discussed by Fujimura (1992), Bowker and Star (1999), and others must be considered. Third, Lee (2007, p. 313) did not believe boundary object theory accounted for “active negotiation of shared understanding,” arguing “the boundary objects concept is not incorrect … [but] it is incomplete” and concluding the active and chaotic negotiation processes she identified in her study were major elements missing from boundary object theory. Other factors may impact on and influence boundary objects, such as Van House’s (2003) identification of barriers to information sharing: fear over potential misuse, need to make data presentable, conflicts with professionals from other fields and worlds, and concerns over trust. Contextual factors must not be ignored in studies of boundary objects within and across social worlds and communities.
The introduction of convergence by Star, Bowker, and Neumann (2003; see also Bowker & Star, 1999, pp. 46–49) is a potential liability, due to their use of multiple conceptions of community. If social worlds, CoPs, and information worlds are fully compatible with each other, then convergence implies a cycle where social worlds, CoPs, and information worlds converge with information artifacts to create information worlds. However, Star et al. (2003, p. 244) used a different definition of an information world than the concept’s originators (see section 2.8.2 below), as “the collection of information resources employed by an individual, organization, institution, or other group to solve [information] problems, learn, play, and work.” They removed from the equation shared activities (as in social worlds), information behaviors, and the concepts of social norms and social types originating in Chatman’s theory of normative behavior. Star, Bowker, and Neumann’s idea of information worlds as the result of convergence should not be considered to be the same concept as Burnett and Jaeger’s version of information worlds or the conception used but ill-defined by Chatman in her work. Because coherence has no required cycle and is compatible with other theories and conceptions of community, it is a better and more flexible concept to apply to many research problems.
This chapter has established the need for research on social digital libraries—content collected for a user community, services offered to the community, and one or more formal or informal organizations managing these content and services—as inherently social organizations and environments, socially constructed by users, communities, and organizations. While different conceptions of communities and collaboration may be included, a theoretical framework based in Star’s boundary object theory and incorporating elements of Strauss’s social worlds perspective and Burnett and Jaeger’s theory of information worlds provides a well-grounded, flexible basis for studying social digital libraries as boundary objects. Research is needed to test part or all of this framework as a theory, using operationalized definitions of its concepts and propositions, but research should explore and describe what roles one or more digital libraries play, as socially constructed boundary objects, in supporting and facilitating collaboration, communities, and other socially constructive behaviors within and across social and information worlds. This latter task is more achievable at the present time, and so the following chapter begins the presentation of a study—this dissertation—that helps satisfy this latter need.