Much of Information Is Not Really That Ready To Use

Much of Information Is Not Really That Ready To Use

Isto Huvila

We often think and act like information would be something you grab, like a can of pop to pour into your mouth. Or with information, maybe you pour it into your head. If you say it aloud, the idea sounds a little strange, but it is still very much there when we talk about searching and using information. With some simple information it might work pretty much like that. For example, thinking about bus schedules, the opening hours of your local restaurant, or the price of your favourite cereals in the local grocery shop. With any more complicated information, though, it is not that simple.

—Instead of just grabbing a piece of ready-to-use-information, we often need to do a lot of work to make information work for us.—

Doing stuff with information can be difficult

Instead of just grabbing a piece of ready-to-use-information, we often need to do a lot of work to make information work for us. The current on-going COVID-19 pandemic provides a lot of examples of this. We receive information on current and upcoming travel restrictions. We learn about occasional lockdowns, the rules of when and where to use a face mask, or when we need to show our vaccination certificate. Sometimes the information itself can be difficult to interpret. Even more often, figuring out how it affects your everyday routines and plans takes time and effort.

Of course, there are many more examples of the efforts to make information work for you. Everyone who has baked a cake knows that the information in the recipe does not contain every single detail that needs to be done in the process. The same applies to learning to do many other things. Books and YouTube videos can be helpful when you plan to fix your car or build a terrace outside your house. However, just reading or watching is not enough to make you a success in what you are planning to do.

Talking about making and taking

As an alternative to talking as if information is ready to use, it can be useful to talk explicitly about how information is made and taken into use for various purposes. Instead of just talking about searching and using, a way of emphasising the effort of creating information and of taking it into use is to talk about making and taking it. This means that whoever writes COVID-19 instructions, cake recipes, or whoever records DYI videos, is making information. Whoever reads or watches them to make use of them is taking information.

Using different words might sound trivial. Still, it can help both information professionals, and really everyone, to make it clearer that dealing with information both in professional and everyday non-professional life is hard work. It is not enough to just put information out somewhere. Information needs to be made useful and usable for whomever is supposed to use it. It takes time and effort. Similarly, using information is not just grabbing or copy-pasting it. Utilizing information can be a really onerous task for whoever tries to utilize it.

Realising how much work it takes to make all this happen is especially crucial in our contemporary society. Today, one of the key guiding principles of the development of new social media services and information systems is to hide their complexity. People put in a lot of effort to try to make even extremely complicated tasks look like they are really easy. Instead of hiding their complexity, it would be tremendously important to do the opposite. Whenever it is complicated and laborious, we should instead make the complexity of information, information creation and its use visible and understandable for everyone.

Understanding the effort of making and taking leads to better information and services

Different things can be done to make information making and information taking easier to understand. It is important to tell what they require and how they are done. It needs to be properly documented and communicated. Information users need to know how information was created to take it into use. Similarly, information creators need to think about how information can be made easily “takeable” by others. This is important even if it would be impossible to know exactly how, when, and by whom it would be taken into use. We are currently conducting research in the CAPTURE project ( on how to make the making and taking of research data, a very specific kind of information, more visible by capturing information about data making and data taking. Many of the findings of the project are also useful far beyond research and research data. It is important to document making and taking. It is also essential to notice different traces that tell about how they were made. Such a sign can be a photograph of a finished cake in a cook book or an explanation of what specific measures to fight the pandemic are meant to achieve. Further, it is useful to avoid making information too simple or clean. Leaving some rough edges helps information takers to understand how it was made.

The key issue for both makers and takers of all types of information and data is to keep in mind that useful and correct information does not come out of thin air. It helps to talk about it as if it doesn’t. Even if it might sound strange, talking about making and taking information, and how much effort is needed to make information work, can help to develop and deliver better information services and information systems. In a very practical sense, it is a crucial step towards fighting false information, superficial copy-paste culture, and in the end, bad decisions in everyday matters, as well as in questions of life and death.

This work has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme grant agreement No 818210 as a part of the project CApturing Paradata for documenTing data creation and Use for the REsearch of the future (CAPTURE).

Cite this article in APA as: Huvila, I. (2021, December 17). Much of information is not really that ready to use. Information Matters.  Vol.1, Issue 12.

Isto Huvila

Isto Huvila is professor in information studies at the Department of ALM (Archival Studies, Library and Information Studies and Museums and Cultural Heritage Studies) at Uppsala University in Sweden.