Adam Worrall

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Last updated July 14, 2016


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 (Meyer, 2014; Sawyer & Eschenfelder, 2002; Sawyer & Tapia, 2007) and social constructionism (Tuominen & Savolainen, 1997). I draw on literature, theories, and concepts from social informatics, sociology, knowledge management, and information behaviour. Using mixed methods research designs—including surveys, content analysis, ethnographic observation, and semi-structured qualitative interviews—combines their strengths, minimizes their weaknesses, improves validity and reliability, and leads to a fuller understanding of the social and sociotechnical contexts of ICTs and of information behaviours and activities in these contexts.

Research Agenda

My recent research 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 has included conceptualizing social digital libraries (Worrall, 2014, 2015), social media (Worrall & Hyduk, 2016), and social questioning-and-answering sites (Oh & Worrall, 2013; Worrall & Oh, 2013) as information-centric online communities. These communities and the ICT infrastructure that supports them will succeed if they coherently reconcile and translate the meanings and understandings of the multiple other communities—existing and emergent—that use them. This will allow users to collaboratively interact, engage, share, and build a broader community around them. This research is both theoretical and practical and draws on Star’s (1989; Star & Griesemer, 1989) 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 (Clarke & Star, 2008; Strauss, 1978) and Burnett and Jaeger’s (2008; Jaeger & Burnett, 2010) 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 research so far I have identified three roles played by LibraryThing and Goodreads, two social digital libraries and online communities: (a) establishing community and organizational structure; (b) facilitating users’ sharing of information values; and (c) building and maintaining social ties, networks, and community culture. Social digital libraries should highlight translation processes and resources; provide for user profiles and off-topic spaces; tailor technology and community features to the right audience; and facilitate the establishment of shared structure, values, ties, and boundary-spanning activities (see Worrall, 2014, 2015; further publications under review or in preparation).

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 (Fisher & Julien, 2009; Meyer, 2014; Sawyer & Eschenfelder, 2002; Sawyer & Tapia, 2007). 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. This work will include deeper examination of facets of identified roles played by ICTs and information-centric online communities; broader exploration of other community environments, including those with less overt social features; consideration of users’ motivations and reasons for information and knowledge sharing within, across, and beyond the boundaries of online communities; and information sharing and curation practices in light of the processes of translation, coherence, and convergence across boundaries.

Research Projects and Experiences

My research agenda builds on the following research projects and experiences:

  • Exploring Socio-Emotional Motivations, Information Sharing, and Community Coherence in StackExchange Academia (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 is to draw 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. Our initial work can be found in Worrall and Hyduk (2016), with more to come.

  • 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. Publications so far include Worrall (2015), with journal articles in preparation or under review.

  • 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, as reviewed in Oh and Worrall (2013) and Worrall and Oh (2013). 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. In addition to social network and citation analysis work (Stvilia et al., 2011; Hinnant et al., 2012), we found that successful juggling of, bridging between, and adapting to multiple communities and lifecycles increases the likelihood of a team’s successful transition (Burnett et al., 2014). We also developed models of the data curation practices and quality perceptions of the condensed matter physics community (Stvilia et al., 2015 and under review).


Burnett, G., Burnett, K., Kazmer, M. M., Marty, P. F., Worrall, A., Knop, B., Hinnant, C. C., Stvilia, B., & Wu, S. (2014). Don’t tap on the glass, you’ll anger the fish! The information worlds of distributed scientific teams. In P. Fichman & H. Rosenbaum (Eds.), Social informatics: Past, present, and future (pp. 118–134). Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Burnett, G., & Jaeger, P. T. (2008). Small worlds, lifeworlds, and information: The ramifications of the information behaviour of social groups in public policy and the public sphere. Information Research, 13(2). Retrieved from–2/paper346.html

Clarke, A. E., & Star, S. L. (2008). The social worlds framework: A theory/methods package. In E. Hackett (Ed.), Handbook of science and technology studies (pp. 113–137). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Fisher, K. E., & Julien, H. (2009). Information behavior. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 43, 317–358. doi:10.1002/aris.2009.1440430114

Hinnant, C. C., Stvilia, B., Wu, S., Worrall, A., Burnett, G., Burnett, K., Kazmer, M. M., & Marty, P. F. (2012). Author team diversity and the impact of scientific publications: Evidence from physics research at a national science lab. Library and Information Science Research, 34, 249–257. doi:10.1016/ j.lisr.2012.03.001

Jaeger, P. T., & Burnett, G. (2010). Information worlds: Behavior, technology, and social context in the age of the Internet. New York, NY: Routledge.

Meyer, E. T. (2014). Examining the hyphen: The value of social informatics for research and teaching. In P. Fichman & H. Rosenbaum (Eds.), Social informatics: Past, present, and future (pp. 56–72). Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Retrieved from

Oh, S., & Worrall, A. (2013). Health answer quality evaluation by librarians, nurses, and users in social Q&A. Library and Information Science Research, 35, 288–298. doi:10.1016/j.lisr.2013.04.007

Sawyer, S., & Eschenfelder, K. R. (2002). Social informatics: Perspectives, examples, and trends. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 36, 427–465. doi:10.1002/aris.1440360111

Sawyer, S., & Tapia, A. (2007). From findings to theories: Institutionalizing social informatics. The Information Society, 23, 263–275. doi:10.1080/01972240701444196

Star, S. L. (1989). The structure of ill-structured solutions: Boundary objects and heterogeneous distributed problem solving. In L. Gasser & M. N. Huhns (Eds.), Distributed artificial intelligence (Vol. 2, pp. 37–54). San Mateo, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.

Star, S. L., & Griesemer, J. R. (1989). Institutional ecology, ‘translations’ and boundary objects: Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907–39. Social Studies of Science, 19, 387–420. doi:10.1177/030631289019003001

Strauss, A. (1978). A social world perspective. In N. K. Denzin (Ed.), Studies in symbolic interaction: An annual compilation of research (Vol. 1, pp. 119–128). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Stvilia, B., Hinnant, C. C., Schindler, K., Worrall, A., Burnett, G., Burnett, K., Kazmer, M. M., & Marty, P. F. (2011). Composition of scientific teams and publication productivity at a national science lab. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 62, 270–283. doi:10.1002/ asi.21464

Stvilia, B., Hinnant, C. C., Wu, S., Worrall, A., Lee, D. J., Burnett, K., Burnett, G., Kazmer, M. M., & Marty, P. F. (under review). Collaborator selection, data ownership, and authorship negotiation in condensed matter physics. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Stvilia, B., Hinnant, C., Wu, S., Worrall, A., Lee, D. J., Burnett, K., Burnett, G., Kazmer, M. M., & Marty, P. F. (2015). Research project tasks, data, and perceptions of data quality in a condensed matter physics community. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 66, 246–263. doi:10.1002/asi.23177

Tuominen, K., & Savolainen, R. (1997). A social constructionist approach to the study of information use as discursive action. In P. Vakkari, R. Savolainen, & B. Dervin (Eds.), Information seeking in context: Proceedings of an international conference on research in information needs, seeking and use in different contexts (pp. 81–96). Los Angeles, CA: Taylor Graham. Retrieved from

Worrall, A. (2014). The roles of digital libraries as boundary objects within and across social and information worlds (Doctoral dissertation). Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL. Retrieved from

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

Worrall, A., & Hyduk, A. (2016). Information values, sharing, and cultural memory: Interactions with ICT use in an online immigrant community. In D. Fenske & J. Greenberg (Co-Chairs), iConference 2016 proceedings, Philadelphia, PA, March 20–23, 2016. Champaign, IL: iSchools. doi:10.9776/16505

Worrall, A., & Oh, S. (2013). The place of health information and socio-emotional support in social questioning and answering. Information Research, 18(3). Retrieved from–3/paper587.html