Both a borrower and a lender be? Is LIS research used outside the discipline?

Library/information science academics have been troubled for a long while as to whether anyone outside our discipline takes any notice of our research, since the issue was first thoroughly discussed in a paper by Blaise Cronin and Stephen Pearson. It is well-known that much of LIS’s toolkit of theories and concepts, and the data to support them, is brought in from outside, from research in related subject areas: computer science, linguistics, sociology, business, education, psychology, etc. This is normal for a multi-discipline like LIS, but it has been questioned as to whether there is traffic in other directions. Do these related disciplines pay attention to the results of LIS research, much of which seems directly relevant to them? Or do they prefer to reinvent it for themselves? This is sometimes expressed as the question as to whether LIS is just a ‘borrowing science’ or is also a ‘lending science’.

In an effort to add something to these discussions, I have been carrying out a small-scale, very informal, and slightly narcissistic study. For about two years, I’ve been collecting citations to my own work in sources outside the LIS mainstream, to try to get a rough understanding of how much, if any, influence it may be outside outside the discipline.

This should not, in any way, be confused with rigorous research, of the kind reported by Rachel Hessey and Peter Willett. Apart from the limitations of focusing on one LIS author, the citation data has not been collected systematically, but simply picked up from alerts to some of my outputs, augmented by things I happen to notice. Designation of the citing works has ‘not LIS’ has been done on the basis simply of the title the citing source; it may be, in some cases, that these are LIS scholars publishing outside the discipline’s usual channels. And the assignment of the citing works to a discipline has been done on a pragmatic categorisation of my own devising, rather than any standard list of subjects. All these things would have to be corrected in formal research into these topics.

Nonetheless, with all these caveats, I found the results interesting, and thought they were worth sharing.

In this two-year period, I’ve noted 62 references to my work in non-LIS sources. The numbers according to a rough categorisation of the citing disciplines is this:

10 health studies and medicine
9 education, educational technology
7 business management, marketing
6 psychology and psychiatry
4 cultural studies and literature
2 computer science
2 ergonomics
2 development studies
2 media and journalism
2 interdisciplinary
2 heritage
2 research policy
1 decision sciences
1 information society
1 food science
1 hospitality and tourism
1 interior design
1 leisure studies
1 ethics
1 ageing studies
1 security
1 chemistry

A nice Zipfian distribution developing there, with the top disciplines much as might have been expected. The most cited of my outputs by a long way is a conceptual review paper with my colleague Lyn Robinson on the ‘dark side’ of information: overload, anxiety, and the like.

So, nothing rigorous or definitive, but maybe an indication that a variety of other disciplines are iindeed nterested in LIS work. Worth a more thorough investigation, I think.

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