Last updated July 4, 2020


In my research program, I study information-centric communities that are wholly or partially online. I have particular interest 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 and across community boundaries. I view and position my research agenda and experiences through the lenses of information behaviour, information practice, and social informatics perspectives, the latter being a primary influence on my intellectual curiosity in and approach to this research and scholarship.

Research Approach

My research is interdisciplinary and draws on sociotechnical theories, methods, and epistemologies, taken from cognate areas of computing, information, communication, management, and social sciences. Technology, information, people, and society are interlinked in ways that are simultaneously social and technical in nature. Social informatics research and theory, focused on understanding the relationships between people and communities and the ICTs that shape and are mutually shaped by those relationships in complex and dynamic networks and contexts, has significant influence on my scholarship. I engage in the careful questioning of these relationships and of how the social and technical relate that social informatics encourages, avoiding a socially or technically deterministic view, but see technology and its roles as socially constructed by humans and information and communities as situated in complex sociotechnical and sociocultural contexts.

Theories and concepts of ICTs and information as boundary objects, people as boundary spanners, and communities as information worlds are central to many of my studies. I view these under a social informatics lens and as part of sociotechnical infrastructure, integrated into a rigorous theoretical and epistemological framework. My strongest interests and expertise are in the processes of translation of information and knowledge within and across boundaries; coherence of existing information-centric communities around common characteristics such as norms, values, or information behaviours; and potential convergence and emergence of new information-centric communities as users share, exchange, and interact in these spaces. Interdisciplinary research from information science, knowledge management, and community sociology also informs my understanding of and aim to learn more about the support and facilitation of successful information sharing through translation, how and why information is translated and shared, and how and why information-centric communities cohere and converge.

I also draw on the literature on information behaviour and information practices. While my initial education and influences were within the now-classical information behaviour tradition, over time I have learned and benefited from information practices literature and now prefer to use both “behaviour” and “practices” labels in my scholarship. I focus on socially constructed practices, but also consider cognitive and demographic differences that may have individual impacts on behaviours. The scholarship of Gary Burnett, Karen Fisher, and Pamela McKenzie has particularly influenced my approach to and intellectual interests in information behaviour and practices.

My work sometimes connects information sharing practices to knowledge sharing via the knowledge management literature, in particular that on boundary spanning. I also have connected to studies of data sharing through work by and collaborations with colleagues elsewhere (Wu, Worrall, & Stvilia, 2016; Wu & Worrall, 2019), emerging out of common experiences in a US National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded scientific collaboration project (see e.g. Burnett et al., 2014) and a follow-on study of sociotechnical data practices (Stvilia et al., 2015, 2017). Many of the same sociotechnical and community-based phenomena, concepts, and theories mutually inform and benefit scholarship on data, knowledge, and information practices, although my current and future research agenda nonetheless remains focused on information.

Under these influences, my choice of research methods often leans qualitative, as in much social informatics and everyday information behaviours and practices research. I often apply mixed methods research designs to combine qualitative and quantitative methods’ strengths; minimize their weaknesses; improve rigor, validity, reliability, and trustworthiness; and lead to a fuller understanding of sociotechnical contexts. Common methods include content analysis, surveys, and qualitative interviews; I have also employed observation and social network analysis.

Research Experience

Over time the focus of my intellectual curiosity has shifted from a tighter view of studying specific platforms and systems to a broader interest in information-centric communities; their users and their use of ICTs; and the sharing of data, information, and knowledge both within and beyond community boundaries. I conceptualize information-centric communities as emphasizing information and knowledge creation, sharing, and use as a primary activity (Worrall, 2019), instead of as a by-product of social interaction (in comparison to e.g. Karen Fisher’s theory of information grounds). I emphasize the addition of social and emotional ties; emergent informational and organizational constructions; and sharing of users’ information, knowledge, and everyday lives that an information-centric community brings over many digital libraries and information systems. My research so far has led to 19 peer-reviewed paper contributions—9 journal articles and 10 conference proceedings—alongside one peer-reviewed book chapter, 15 peer-reviewed posters at conferences, three refereed short conference talks, and three refereed conference panel sessions. 10 of my 19 peer-reviewed papers have been since becoming an assistant professor. Two more manuscripts are currently under peer review at journals.

My doctoral dissertation research (Worrall, 2014, 2015b, 2019) focused on LibraryThing and Goodreads as social digital libraries, but also on the readers and book lovers that make up the online communities they facilitate. LibraryThing and Goodreads supported translation, coherence, and convergence through three roles: (a) establishing community and organizational structure; (b) facilitating users’ sharing of information values; and (c) building and maintaining social ties, networks, and community culture. My original contributions, as published, emphasize the importance of translation of meanings and understandings within and between communities, processes that are often invisible work (Worrall, 2015b), with key implications for design, research, and theory (Worrall, 2019). I also presented briefer work out of my dissertation applying concepts and ideas from boundary object theory and boundary spanning literature to research in information behaviour and practices (Worrall, 2013, 2015c, 2017) and engagement and motivation online (Worrall, 2015a, 2016). I contributed related analyses as part of collaborations on data practices (Stvilia et al., 2015, 2017; Wu, Worrall, & Stvilia, 2016; Wu & Worrall, 2019) and to a well-received review of boundary object research in information science (Huvila et al., 2017).

Prior to my dissertation I had been part of collaborative research on health questions on a social questioning and answering (Q&A) site, with a focus on how populations of health science librarians, nurses, and the general public evaluate the quality of answers to questions (Oh & Worrall, 2013; Worrall & Oh, 2013). A later study funded by the Faculty of Education’s Support for the Advancement of Scholarship (SAS) grant program, with School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) / Digital Humanities students Alicia Cappello and Rachel Osolen, of information sharing and motivations on an academic-focused social Q&A site (Worrall, Cappello, & Osolen, 2018; Worrall, Osolen, & Cappello, 2017) incorporated the concept of coherence I had used in my dissertation. In both cases empathy and emotional considerations emerged as key factors alongside an information-centric community. This affective and socio-emotional angle to information sharing in online information-centric communities is one I am exploring further (Worrall, Cappello, & Osolen, under review) and will continue to examine in future.

An emergent line of research has focused on populations of immigrants (to Canada) and expatriates (from Canada). This began through mutual interests of myself and my first student research assistant at SLIS, Alyssa Hyduk, and looked to fill gaps identified by Nadia Caidi, Danielle Allard, and Lisa Quirke in our knowledge of their information practices and ICT use in sociotechnical contexts. We completed an exploratory study of the information values, information sharing, and cultural memory practices of immigrants and expatriates and their relations to ICT use in the context of Twitter (Hyduk & Worrall, 2016; Worrall & Hyduk, 2016). We found information of use in their daily lives provided the most cultural, contextual, and economic value; strong roles for boundaries and cultural values that led to clear interactions with ICT-based features and affordances; and some new community emergence among expatriates, if less through Twitter itself than other online media such as blogs. Current Faculty of Education SAS-funded research with SLIS students Deniz Ozgan and Tiffany Yii is following this up with a deeper exploration of social media platforms that Canadian expatriates use to interact and share information, and of whether there is coherence and convergence of community as a result. Our findings should be presented and published during 2020-21, including synthesis with and comparison to the first study’s findings.

A study with SLIS students Erin Ballantyne and Jen Kendall focused on a narrower population of international students to learn more about their online information sharing, associated use of ICTs and social media, and the roles of these technologies in their settlement in Canada and their university and local community. Their ICT use and information sharing were both similar and different to other students and other immigrants. We identified a set of settlement barriers and helps associated with ICTs: culture, information, information behaviours and practices, fellow students, their support structure, language, and ICTs themselves. As with my earlier research, there were clear roles seen for ICTs in supporting the informational, social, and emotional needs of the international students we interviewed (Worrall, Ballantyne, & Kendall, 2019). These studies collectively make original contributions to our understanding of ICT use, information sharing, translation, and coherence in immigrant and expatriate communities.

A related outgrowth of these studies of immigrants was a collaboration with researchers Ana Ndumu and Lynette Hammond Gerido on social media reactions to Donald Trump’s mooted change in policy around birthright citizenship in the United States, of relevance to US immigrant and expatriate communities. Through sentiment analysis (led by Gerido) and network analysis (led by myself) of Twitter data, we characterized the reactions of users, their behaviours, and the network itself in terms of different communities and the interactions between them. Our sociotechnical view showed both opponents and proponents of Trump’s mooted change in policy engaged in similar behaviours and drew on the same emotions and sentiments, further shaped by social identity. Despite the divisiveness and some differences in categorization, we saw interactions across communities indicating some willingness to engage in boundary crossing, if perhaps not to agree and fully cohere or converge into one community (Ndumu, Worrall, & Gerido, 2019; Ndumu, Gerido, & Worrall, under review). I hope we can explore further the dynamics of this kind of boundary spanning in political and policy discourse, where translation happens and some coherence is present, but full coherence or convergence of social identity, information values, social norms, and political ideals may not be welcomed or desired.

Future Research Agenda

The focus of my research interests and agenda over the next five years continues my research agenda to examine the everyday life contexts of users in these populations and other potential groups as they engage with and share information online, particularly as informed via the processes of translation, coherence, and convergence and a boundary-sensitive perspective drawing on social informatics and information behaviour and practices scholarship. In addition to finalizing those publications currently under review and completing ongoing research, I wish to build on my prior research in three integrated areas, all with implications for library and information science research, theory, and practice and with potential for publications, including a book proposal as part of one or two of the three.

First, I plan to continue my research on the sociotechnical contexts of immigrants and expatriates through a larger, collaborative, multi-institutional study, examining in greater depth how social media and related ICTs facilitate international students and their needs and desires for informational, social, and emotional support from both pre-existing and newly emergent communities as part of their settlement. This furthers my interests and prior work and follows up on the importance of informational, social, and affective factors seen in this prior work and related work in sociotechnical systems (such as by Austin Toombs and colleagues) and information behaviour and practices (as by Carol Kuhlthau, Diane Nahl, and Dania Bilal).

Second, I hope to further my theorization of information-centric communities with a focus on how the boundaries and bridges that support information sharing across such communities are facilitated. I expect such work will study both online and offline examples with an emphasis on these practices in alignment with translation, coherence, and convergence, with an eye to furthering and continuing theory development and my conceptual and theoretical contributions to social informatics and online community research that began in my dissertation.

Third, I hope to work individually and collaboratively, via the two directions above and in other research-related activities, to further develop theory and ideas behind translation, boundary objects, and boundary spanning. I aim to advance our understanding of how boundary crossing can bring people and communities together and how the dynamics of translation, coherence, and convergence vary in different information-centric domains and for different types of communities, media, and ICTs.

My research program past, present, and future is indicative of a strong foundation, original contributions building over time, and a clear narrative arc demonstrating my expertise, knowledge, and abilities to contribute to research and scholarship in library and information science. Grounded in rigorous foundations integrating social informatics and information behaviour and practices, and informed by a continuing research trajectory, I plan to continue enhancing our understanding of users’ engagement with and sharing of information within and beyond community boundaries, as facilitated by ICTs; and of translation, boundary objects, and boundary spanning activities in theory and practice.