Social Informatics and Information Seeking

Social Informatics and Information Seeking Theories Abound at the Gingerbread Castle

This Digital Library was created as part of graduate coursework in information science.   The project librarian has particular interest in the area of Social Informatics and has found many connections in the areas of Information Seeking, Children’s Literature, Storytelling, Reference Services, Personal Information Management and Social Informatics in the course of building this Digital Library.

This page attempts provides a brief overview of a few concepts related to Social Informatics and Information Seeking theories with  relevance to the Historic District where the Gingerbread Castle is located as well as took the work performed to build this Digital Library.

Brenda Dervin, of Ohio State University, has studied the topic of Sensemaking , which simply stated is the process by which people give meaning to experience.  The first information science concept that came to the mind of the Gingerbread Librarian, regarding the relevance of the Gingerbread Castle as an area of focus was to remember, “THEY HAD A BRIDGE THERE!”

Dervin’s original hand-drawn sketch of the Sense Making Bridge is depicted in this image:

Retrieved from Wikipedia – April 22, 2012 –

If we study the Historic District at Wheatsworth Road Hamburg, we see a journey of economic development powered by a variety of changing technologies that continues up to and including the creation of this Digital Library.

Game Changing Technologists worked at this physical site.  They simply did not use those words to describe themselves in their own time.  Technology creation and transition cycles abound, and much of the exploration of this topic unfortunately lies outside the scope of this digital library project, which was completed as an Independent Study during one semester, plus a few months of earlier planning.

About Social Informatics

According to the Rob Kling Center for Social Informatics – at Indiana University Bloomington:

“Social Informatics (SI) refers to the body of research and study that examines social aspects of computerization, including the roles of information technology in social and organizational change, the uses of information technologies in social contexts, and the ways that the social organization of information technologies is influenced by social forces and social practices.”

At Rutgers, the project librarian has studied Social Informatics working with Professor Lilia Pavlovsky. Pavlovsky’s course provided a survey of the key social issues related to information technology development, decision-making, and use.   She worked to teach us how to develop our ability to do critical analysis of social, cultural, philosophical, ethical, legal, public policy, and economic issues relating to information technologies and their impact on the workplace and technology use.

Examples of technology and in particular Information and communications technology transitions:

  1. Water powered Mill
  2. Evolivng Use  – Mill, Forge, Amusement Park, Wire Manufacturing Plant.
  3. Creation of the Automobile and the development of Roadside Attractions to stimulate economic growth.
  4. Creation of the telephone, its infrastructure, the information challenges that caused the development of the area code.
  5. Creation of the Record Player> the Novelty Record> the decline of analog based media device> digitized Music, Movies and Image Capture.
  6. The rise of Social Media and the ability to share and develop content across great distances – physical distances, and other previous barriers to engagement.
  7. Development of the Internet and technology approaches to collecting, via channels such as Ebay.
  8. The use of digital media to capture oral histories and video histories, which when used in the context of a digital library, create accelerated interactions and dialogues, which, in turn, creates new knowledge construction.
  9. The Physical Site Transformed Into A Digital library “Site”.
  10. Ancient Stories > FolkTales> Books> Amusement Park> Digital Books>Digital Library
  11. Tools We Love –  The Project Librarian has grown to love her Apple MacBook Pro, and the WordPress CMS, and is ready to leave coding in Dreamweaver to others.
Information Seeking Theories In Action
The Strength of Weak Ties – Mark S. Granovetter’s Theory – Examples abound throughout this project of this theory in action.   The Castle is a site visited by over one million children and their families during it’s time,  some of those one hour visits translated to memories that absolutely bind these friends, and more often strangers together.

Dr. Elfreda A. Chatman’s work regarding to Information Seeking in small communities.   This project provided insights into the power and value of the small community and its extension when people move beyond that community.  This needs exploration and perhaps this is about community informatics, more so than social informatics, and there has not been any time to explore this.

Personal Information Management and Ephemera (PIM)

The study of the activities people as they acquire, organize, maintain, retrieve and use information items such as documents (paper-based and digital), web pages and email messages for everyday use to complete tasks, for personal and work-related needs and fulfill life-roles.     During this project, there were many opportunities to examine PIM related  issues:  Joseph Urban’s private papers; exploring private collections; studying how  people recall their experiences at the Castle and hold on to it’s artifacts.

Joe Urban's Ephemera

Semiotics – simply described as “the study of signs and sign processes” and sign related matters:  indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication.   Can be divided into three areas:

  1. Semantics: Relation between signs and the things to which they refer.
  2. Syntactics: Relations among signs in formal structures
  3. Pragmatics: Relation between signs and the effects they have on the people who use them

The creation of the artwork “Signsand the use of iconic images to supplement individual’s stories in the process of building the Digital application are evident throughout this work. Local Historians use signs to help us interpret our past and stay connected to each other.

Photo of Sussex Country Landmark Designation Plaque - Joseph Sharp's Iron Works

Digital Librarianship helps those same connections reach farther than two or three people standing on the Gingerbread Castle Road looking at a metal sign, trying to explain to an eleven year old, who asks, “So, what is the big deal about this Castle?”

The Gingerbread Librarian explains, “Dude, you need to take time to go over that Bridge over there.  Go look.  Ask questions, figure it out.”

What is the big deal?


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