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, boundary spanning, and information worlds 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. 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. 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, including immigrants and expatriates, readers and book lovers, academics (including students, faculty, researchers, and librarians, and the general question-asking public. 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, sociotechnical research, and social constructionism. As is natural the literature on information behaviour and information practices 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.
Further details of my research interests, agenda, and activities can be found in my full portfolio, including my full research statement, details of publications and presentations completed, and my CV.
Research Projects and Experiences
My research agenda builds on the following research projects and experiences, as documented in my publications and presentations, as well as in work in preparation / under review:
Exploring Socio-Emotional Motivations, Information Sharing, and Community Coherence in Academia StackExchange (since July 2016; in final writing stages): 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 draws 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 (since September 2015; in final writing stages): 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.
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.
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. 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. We found that successful juggling of, bridging between, and adapting to multiple communities and lifecycles increases the likelihood of a team’s successful transition. We also developed models of the data curation practices and quality perceptions of the condensed matter physics community.