Book Review

D-Lib Magazine
July/August 1998

ISSN 1082-9873

Information Ecology

By Roxanne Missingham, Divisional Librarian, CSIRO Wildlife & Ecology, Australia

Information Ecology
Mastering the Information and Knowledge Environment

Thomas H. Davenport with Laurence Prusak
New York : Oxford University Press, 1997. x, 255 p. : ill. COST: $54.95 at The Co-op Bookshop ISBN 0195111680

Those who have followed the development of a new paradigm for information management -- information ecology -- will have enthusiastically read previous work by Thomas Davenport and Larry Prusak. Information ecology pulls together all the theoretical threads and adds information on case studies of mostly American businesses. It is refreshing to read that information technology is not in itself a solution, but that the myriad of factors relating to people, organisations, business needs and technical structures need to be considered in utilising and planning information services.

Much will ring true to librarians, for instance:

"An information strategy that focuses on particular types of content allows an organization to co-ordinate how it gathers, analyzes, and acts on the most important information. Managers can always spend money to buy information and the computers to manipulate it; but the truly scarce resource in any organization is the time people have to read it." (p. 52)

Davenport binds together insights on organisational politics and how it affects "information politics", individual behaviour, (Access to information is not the same as knowledge.), organisational cultures reflected in their information behaviour and good business sense on the need for effective use of information. He sees a strong role for librarians in the new information ecologically aware organisation, but criticises us for being inclined to be passive, for concentrating on preservation rather than information use, and for not creating or improving information. While we may quibble with these issues, they are no doubt the views of one of our enlightened supporters.

The proposed new roles of information staff and information will excite you -- the primary goal is to make information meaningful (including assessment of accuracy, timeliness, accessibility, engagement, applicability and rarity). New tasks include information pruning, adding context, enhancing communication, and delivering what we would now call a "client-focused" service. Interestingly, Davenport reshapes the term "technical architecture" to include people as well as systems. While as reference librarians we know that much of the resource base consists of people, this is an important step for information systems and is fundamental to information ecology.

If you are seeking views on future directions and organisational perspective of information management and information systems, this is the book for you. It does take a lot of effort to read, but is well worth the investment in time and energy. I have only a few quibbles: Firstly, some of the most relevant case studies leave you looking for more, and they are not fully documented. Secondly, each chapter includes a checklist at the end by which you can assess how "ecologically aware" your organisation is in addressing information issues, probably a depressing assessment of many Australian organisations!

If there is one book you should read this year, this is it. Then catch the next book by these authors for information on how to improve your organisation's information ecology.

Copyright © 1998 Roxanne Missingham

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