Chapter 1: Information Sciences

1 Information Sciences Defined


Information science is an interdisciplinary field primarily concerned with the analysis, collection, classification, manipulation, storage, retrieval, movement, dissemination, and protection of information. Practitioners within the field study the application and usage of knowledge in organizations, along with the interaction between people, organizations and any existing information systems, with the aim of creating, replacing, improving, or understanding information systems. Information science is often (mistakenly) considered a branch of computer science; however, it predates computer science and is actually a broad, interdisciplinary field, incorporating not only aspects of computer science, but often diverse fields such as archival science, cognitive science, commerce, communications, law, library science, museology, management, mathematics, philosophy, public policy, and the social sciences.

Information science should not be confused with information theory or library science. Information theory is the study of a particular mathematical concept of information. Information science as an academic discipline is often taught in combination with Library science as Library and Information Science. Library science as such is a field related to the dissemination of information through libraries making use of the principles of information science. Information science deals with all the processes and techniques pertaining to the information life cycle, including capture, generation, packaging, dissemination, transformation, refining, repackaging, usage, storage, communication, protection, presentation etc. in any possible manner.

Foundations of Information Science

Scope and approach

Information science focuses on understanding problems from the perspective of the stakeholders involved and then applying information and other technologies as needed. In other words, it tackles systemic problems first rather than individual pieces of technology within that system. In this respect, one can see information science as a response to technological determinism, the belief that technology “develops by its own laws, that it realizes its own potential, limited only by the material resources available and the creativity of its developers. It must therefore be regarded as an autonomous system controlling and ultimately permeating all other subsystems of society.”

Many universities have entire colleges, departments or schools devoted to the study of information science, while numerous information-science scholars work in disciplines such as communication, computer science, law, library science, and sociology. Several institutions have formed an I-School Caucus (see List of I-Schools), but numerous others besides these also have comprehensive information foci.

Within information science, current issues as of 2013 include:

Definitions of information science

An early definition of Information science (going back to 1968, the year when the American Documentation Institute renamed itself as the American Society for Information Science and Technology) states:

“Information science is that discipline that investigates the properties and behavior of information, the forces governing the flow of information, and the means of processing information for optimum accessibility and usability. It is concerned with that body of knowledge relating to the origination, collection, organization, storage, retrieval, interpretation, transmission, transformation, and utilization of information. This includes the investigation of information representations in both natural and artificial systems, the use of codes for efficient message transmission, and the study of information processing devices and techniques such as computers and their programming systems. It is an interdisciplinary science derived from and related to such fields as mathematics, logic, linguistics, psychology, computer technology, operations research, the graphic arts, communications, library science, management, and other similar fields. It has both a pure science component, which inquires into the subject without regard to its application, and an applied science component, which develops services and products.” (Borko, 1968, p.3).

Some authors use informatics as a synonym for information science. This is especially true when related to the concept developed by A. I. Mikhailov and other Soviet authors in the mid-1960s. The Mikhailov school saw informatics as a discipline related to the study of scientific information. Informatics is difficult to precisely define because of the rapidly evolving and interdisciplinary nature of the field. Definitions reliant on the nature of the tools used for deriving meaningful information from data are emerging in Informatics academic programs.

Regional differences and international terminology complicate the problem. Some people note that much of what is called “Informatics” today was once called “Information Science” – at least in fields such as Medical Informatics. For example, when library scientists began also to use the phrase “Information Science” to refer to their work, the term “informatics” emerged:

  • in the United States as a response by computer scientists to distinguish their work from that of library science
  • in Britain as a term for a science of information that studies natural, as well as artificial or engineered, information-processing systems

Another term discussed as a synonym for “information studies” is “information systems”. Brian Campbell Vickery‘s Information Systems (1973) places information systems within IS. Ellis, Allen, & Wilson (1999), on the other hand, provide a bibliometric investigation describing the relation between two different fields: “information science” and “information systems”.

Paul Otlet, Information Scientist, 1868-1944

Paul Otlet was an early information scientist, who wanted to catalog all the facts in the world. With collaborators, he began writing down facts on index cards, and storing them in a complex card catalog system. Image from Zinneke, from Wikipedia:

The card catalog system became known as the Repertoire Biblographique Universel, and grew to over 15 million index cards. Otlet would go on to create a fee-based service, in which anyone in the world could send Otlet a question via mail, then receive answers in the form of copies of applicable index cards from the catalog. In essence, Otlet created an analog search engine. We will be using Otlet’s Repertoire Biblographique Universel as an example throughout the semester, as we talk about various technology topics, and how Otlet might do things different if he wanted to re-create this system in today’s world.


Philosophy of information

Philosophy of information (PI) studies conceptual issues arising at the intersection of computer science, information technology, and philosophy. It includes the investigation of the conceptual nature and basic principles of information, including its dynamics, utilisation and sciences, as well as the elaboration and application of information-theoretic and computational methodologies to its philosophical problems.


In computer science and information science, an ontology formally represents knowledge as a set of concepts within a domain, and the relationships between those concepts. It can be used to reason about the entities within that domain and may be used to describe the domain.

More specifically, an ontology is a model for describing the world that consists of a set of types, properties, and relationship types. Exactly what is provided around these varies, but they are the essentials of an ontology. There is also generally an expectation that there be a close resemblance between the real world and the features of the model in an ontology.

In theory, an ontology is a “formal, explicit specification of a shared conceptualisation.” An ontology renders shared vocabulary and taxonomy which models a domain with the definition of objects and/or concepts and their properties and relations.

Ontologies are the structural frameworks for organizing information and are used in artificial intelligence, the Semantic Web, systems engineering, software engineering, biomedical informatics, library science, enterprise bookmarking, and information architecture as a form of knowledge representation about the world or some part of it. The creation of domain ontologies is also fundamental to the definition and use of an enterprise architecture framework.


Xefer, a web-based application in which you can enter various phrases or terms, then Xefer looks across Wikipedia and attempts to make linkages between all the things you entered. It’s similar to Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, in which all actors and actresses can be traced back to Kevin Bacon by six connection points or less. Below is an example of an Ontology created by adding several different keywords and phrases from our course to Xefer.



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