Centre for Information Management

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Approaches to information management:change and continuity

In 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee was working at CERN in Switzerland and wrote a paper about a system that would eventually develop into the World Wide Web. This much is now history and well re-hashed in newspapers and online in light of the WWW’s 25th anniversary. The paper was entitled ‘Information Management – A Proposal’. The title, whilst brief, does beg the (only somewhat facetious) question of ‘what did he think information professionals were doing before then, if not managing it?’ As you may expect from a scientist, he took an approach to information management that focused on systems, rather than more traditional information activities such as cataloguing and classification, to use unfashionable library terms.

The impact of the web on information management has been fundamental, moving some of the focus toward systems.  For instance there are blurred lines now between IT and information management (e.g. network managers are now called information managers) and we are all ‘managing’ our personal information online in one way or another. 

But other approaches or lenses through which to view information management are both possible and desirable.  The breadth of research being carried out within CIM demonstrates this. Consideration of the current PhDs for example shows work on a range of information topics, including information literacy, scholarly publishing, health information, knowledge management, social media and so on.

In my own area of digital preservation there is understandably much work done on the technical aspects and on devising standards. This is because it is a relatively new discipline involving practical problems that need addressing, but consideration of management, users, practitioners, and creators – people really – can sometimes be lost in an ocean of technological change. It is the management of people that is particularly challenging yet determines success in development and change; you need consideration of and engagement with all stakeholders and this does not change with new systems. The paper written by Sir Tim acknowledges this from the start, for instance where he talks about the networks of people at CERN needing to share information, as well as the problems of information loss or with information searching.

A picture of the front page of Tim Berners-Lee’s paper shows his manager’s response: ‘vague but exciting…’ (http://info.cern.ch/Proposal.html). If he had not written this encouraging phrase, Sir Tim might not have been able to spend time developing his ideas and research and where would we be now? Not with a world wide web that allows us to store and link ‘any information or reference which one felt was important, and a way of finding it afterwards’ (http://www.w3.org/History/1989/proposal.html).  And not swamped by pictures of cute kittens.

Image collected on -The Rjukan project-




One comment on “Approaches to information management:change and continuity

  1. David Gerrard says:

    This makes the often overlooked but vital point that “standards” are only as good as the people that have to stick to them. Hence the “de facto” standard often coming out on top – the most natural feeling approach that maps most closely onto the genuine human problem is the winner.

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