Adam Worrall

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Last updated June 27, 2018


In my research, I adopt social informatics, information behaviour, and information practice perspectives to study information-centric communities that are wholly or partially online. I am particularly interested in the roles played by information and communication technologies (ICTs) in online information-centric communities and the relationships and interactions they have with users and their information sharing behaviours and practices within these contexts.

Most of my work applies theories and concepts of boundary objects (Star & Griesemer, 1989), boundary spanning (Davenport & Prusak, 2000; Leonard-Barton, 1995; Levina & Vaast, 2005), and information worlds (Jaeger & Burnett, 2010) to the study of these communities, their actors, and their information practices and behaviours. I focus on the processes of translation of information and knowledge within and across boundaries; coherence of existing information-centric communities around social norms, information values, and information behaviours and practices; and potential convergence and emergence of new information-centric communities as users share, exchange, and interact in these spaces. These processes occur as those from different existing communities come together, with different but overlapping understandings of the information, culture, and nature of sociotechnical infrastructure and of communities; these understandings and their negotiation serve an important mediation role (Bechky, 2003; Kazmer et al., 2014). People often serve as boundary spanners, and technologies as boundary objects, but for successful information sharing — and by extension a successful role for an online information-centric community and its associated ICTs — the translation and negotiation of meanings and understandings must be supported and facilitated through a balanced and careful approach to the interface a boundary object provides (Star & Griesemer, 1989). My research looks to help us learn more about this support and facilitation, how and why information is translated and shared, and how and why communities cohere and converge. I look to further develop our understanding within information science around four broad research questions:

  • How do users use social media and associated online information-centric communities and ICTs in their everyday lives? What information do they share with others online, and how? What motivates them to share or not share information and interact with other users online?
  • What roles do ICTs play, as potential boundary objects, in the information sharing of users in online information-centric communities? In the processes of translation, coherence, and convergence that may occur in the context of their information behaviours and practices, social norms, and information values?
  • Do online communities come together — cohere and/or converge — in and around information sharing by users? How and why does this happen (or not happen) for a given setting?
  • How best can we support and facilitate successful and meaningful information sharing within and beyond online communities, through a balanced and careful approach that accounts for the varied characteristics and contexts of users and their existing communities?

Over time my focus has shifted somewhat from a tighter view of studying specific platforms and systems to a broader interest in communities and their associated user populations both within and beyond the boundaries of a given platform, system, or service. My interests have led me to examine social digital libraries, social questioning and answering sites, and social media as information-centric communities in research projects and experiences so far. These studies have spanned a range of different populations engaged in what are for them everyday life information behaviours and practices (Fisher & Julien, 2009; Harris & Dewdney, 1994; Savolainen, 1995, 2007), including immigrants and expatriates (Hyduk & Worrall, 2016; Worrall & Hyduk, 2016, in preparation), readers and book lovers (Worrall, 2014, 2015, under review), academics (including students, faculty, researchers, and librarians; Oh & Worrall, 2013; Worrall, Cappello, & Osolen, 2016, in preparation; Worrall & Oh, 2013; Worrall, Osolen, & Cappello, 2016), and the general question-asking public (Oh & Worrall, 2013; Worrall & Oh, 2013). My continuing research interests and agenda remain in examining the everyday life contexts of users in these populations, and possibly others, as they engage with and share information via online information-centric communities and their associated ICTs.

My work and ideas are interdisciplinary, with influences from the literature, theories, and concepts in and of sociology, knowledge management, and Internet studies, and from work applying sociotechnical research concepts and theories within cognate areas of computing, information, and communication sciences. As befits my home in a school of library and information studies, my research is most significantly informed by the methods and epistemologies of social perspectives to information science, particularly those offered by social informatics (Kling, 1999; Meyer, 2014; Sawyer & Rosenbaum, 2000; Sawyer & Tapia, 2007) but also drawing from sociotechnical research (Sawyer & Jarrahi, 2014) and social constructionism (Tuominen & Savolainen, 1997) as applied within the information science field. As is natural the literature on information behaviour (Case & Given, 2016; Fisher & Julien, 2009) and information practices (Lloyd, 2010; McKenzie, 2003; Savolainen, 2007) further impact on and play a strong role in all my work. I focus on socially constructed practices, but also consider cognitive and demographic differences that may individually impact behaviours. While my choice of research methods leans somewhat qualitative, I often apply mixed methods research designs — including surveys, content analysis, ethnographic observation, and semi-structured interviews — to combine their strengths; help minimize their weaknesses; improve validity, reliability, and trustworthiness; and lead to a fuller understanding of the social and sociotechnical contexts of online information-centric communities, ICTs, and information sharing and of translation, coherence, and convergence in these contexts.


Bechky, B. A. (2003). Sharing meaning across occupational communities: The transformation of understanding on a production floor. Organization Science, 14, 312–330.

Case, D. O., & Given, L. M. (2016). Looking for information: A survey of research on information seeking, needs, and behavior (4th ed.). Bingley, UK: Emerald.

Davenport, T. H., & Prusak, L. (2000). Working knowledge: How organizations manage what they know (Paperback edition). Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Fisher, K. E., & Julien, H. (2009). Information behavior. Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 43, 317–358.

Harris, R. M., & Dewdney, P. (1994). Theory and research on information-seeking. In Barriers to information: How formal help systems fail battered women (pp. 7–34). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Hyduk, A., & Worrall, A. (2016). “Shorts last Sunday, snow pants today”: Delving into the information values of immigrant and expatriate users of Twitter. In A. Grove (Ed.), Proceedings of the 79th ASIS&T Annual Meeting: Creating knowledge, enhancing lives through information and technology, Copenhagen, Denmark, October 14–18, 2016. Silver Spring, MD: Association for Information Science and Technology.

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

Kling, R. (1999). What is social informatics and why does it matter? D-Lib Magazine, 5(1).

Kazmer, M. M., Lustria, M. L. A., Cortese, J., Burnett, G., Kim, J.-H., Ma, J., & Frost, J. (2014). Distributed knowledge in an online patient support community: Authority and discovery. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 65, 1319–1334.

Leonard-Barton, D. (1995). Wellsprings of knowledge: Building and sustaining the sources of innovation. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Levina, N., & Vaast, E. (2005). The emergence of boundary spanning competence in practice: Implications for implementation and use of information systems. MIS Quarterly, 29, 335–363.

Lloyd, A. (2010). Framing information literacy as information practice: Site ontology and practice theory. Journal of Documentation, 66, 245–258.

McKenzie, P. J. (2003). A model of information practices in accounts of everyday-life information seeking. Journal of Documentation, 59, 19–40.

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.

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.

Savolainen, R. (1995). Everyday life information seeking: Approaching information seeking in the context of “way of life.” Library and Information Science Research, 17, 259–294. 0740–8188(95)90048–9

Savolainen, R. (2007). Information behavior and information practice: Reviewing the “umbrella concepts” of information-seeking studies. Library Quarterly, 77, 109–132.

Sawyer, S., & Jarrahi, M. H. (2014). Sociotechnical approaches to the study of information systems. In H. Topi & A. B. Tucker (Eds.), Computing handbook: Information systems and information technology (3rd ed., pp. 5–1–5–27). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Sawyer, S., & Rosenbaum, H. (2000). Social informatics in the information sciences: Current activities and emerging directions. Informing Science, 3(2), 89–95. Retrieved from https://

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

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.

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 ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (3638098)

Worrall, A. (2015). “Like a real friendship”: Translation, coherence, and convergence of information values in LibraryThing and Goodreads. In G. Olson (Ed.), iConference 2015 proceedings, Newport Beach, CA, March 24–27, 2015. Champaign, IL: iSchools. Retrieved from

Worrall, A. (under review). “Connections above and beyond”: Information, translation, and community boundaries in LibraryThing and Goodreads. Manuscript submitted for journal publication.

Worrall, A., Cappello, A., & Osolen, R. (2018). Balancing socio-emotional and informational considerations in social Q&A: The case of Academia Stack Exchange. In A. Shiri, S. Polkinghorne, & S. Farnel (Co-Chairs), Proceedings of the 2016 annual conference of CAIS / Actes du congrès annuel 2016 de l’ACSI, Regina, SK, May 30 - June 1, 2018. Canada: CAIS/ACSI.

Worrall, A., Cappello, A., & Osolen, R. (2018). Manuscript in preparation (no title yet).

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.

Worrall, A., & Hyduk, A. (in preparation). Boundaries, context, and culture: Information values and cultural memory of immigrant users of Twitter. Manuscript in preparation.

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

Worrall, A., Osolen, R., & Cappello, A. (2017). “How do I tell my advisor?”: Socio-emotional motivations for information sharing in Academia Stack Exchange. In A. Gruzd, J. Jacobson, & P. Mai (Chairs), Proceedings of the 8th international conference on Social Media and Society (SMSociety17), Toronto, ON, July 28–30, 2017. New York, NY: ACM.