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On Inquiry: Human Concept Formation and Construction of Meaning through Library and Information Science Intermediation


Library and Information Science (LIS) is centrally concerned with providing instruments (documents, organization, bibliographies, indexes) to enable people to become better informed through use of documents. The relationship between how people become informed and LIS intermediation, the Basic Relationship, is fundamental to the theory, practice, and professional education of LIS.

This Basic Relationship and how it is understood in the field is investigated through analysis of selected LIS texts according to criteria derived from principles of Assimilation Theory, grounded in educational psychology, integrated with complementary ideas from the cognate fields of ancient rhetoric, cognitive linguistics, philosophy, and communications studies. These criteria were applied in the analysis of 413 LIS texts. Distinct from the "interdisciplinary" trend in our field, to utilize ideas from other fields as LIS concepts, here, ideas from other fields are used to reveal LIS core concepts that are innate and uniquely central to LIS.

The primary finding is that LIS texts express dissonance with Assimilation Theory to a small extent (5.6%), consonance with Assimilation Theory to a small extent (5.6%), and silence to most Assimilation Theory criteria (88.8%). Overall, LIS theory, practice, and education are found to be not consonant with principles of Assimilation Theory.

This primary finding leads to recommendations (Part IV) for a path to an Assimilation Theory-consonant LIS comprised of: (1) conceptual indexing as a complement to present indexing and information service, (2) constructive retrieval (CR) as an alternative to information retrieval (IR), (3) an LIS curriculum and research program grounded upon a core concern of virtually all facets of the field of information: humans becoming informed (constructing meaning) via intermediation between inquirers and instrumented records, and (4) core concepts that differentiate the field from all others. A set of skills (5) common to researchers, service providers, students, and educators in the field is described.

These recommendations can have a favorable impact in two ways: (1) inquirers have the benefit of a "retrieval" paradigm that takes into account their prior knowledge (as urged by Ausubel), and (2) important explanations never apparently known to any specific person might be discovered by detection of explanatory concept paths among disjunct literatures as shown through a worked example of conceptual indexing and constructive retrieval applied to Swanson's discovery of "undiscovered public knowledge" associated with dietary fish oil and Raynaud's disease.

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