Introduction: Information Matters Special Issue on Collaborative Interpretation

Introduction: Information Matters Special Issue on Collaborative Interpretation

Isto Huvila, Uppsala University, Sweden ([email protected])
Maja Krtalić, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand ([email protected])
Annie T. Chen, University of Washington, United States ([email protected])
Alexandra Chassanoff, UNC Chapel Hill, United States ([email protected])
James A. Hodges, San Jose State University, United States ([email protected])

Collaboration on the interpretation and analysis of texts, images, artifacts, qualitative data, and other recorded information is fundamental to knowledge production in many disciplines. However, collaborators may have different goals, work routines, research paradigms and methodologies, background knowledge, and more. Scholars have documented a range of challenges for successful collaborations, whether stemming from the mode of collaboration, differences in disciplinary perspectives and goals, or the need to establish common ground and find effective modes of communication. This special issue explores some of those challenges and through 10 articles showcases how collaborative interpretation happens, how existing knowledge infrastructures can and should support it, and how diverse individual perspectives come together during collaborative interpretation. 

—This special issue explores some of those challenges and through 10 articles showcases how collaborative interpretation happens, how existing knowledge infrastructures can and should support it, and how diverse individual perspectives come together during collaborative interpretation. —

Articles in the special issue

Several articles in this issue highlighted how participatory technology co-creates and constructs collaborative knowledge-making. In Collaborative Interpretation as Craft: Slow Theory Development in Library and Information Science, Hicks, McKenzie, Bronstein, Hyldegård, Ruthven and Widén advocate for a new perspective on collaborative theory-building as craft in library and information science (LIS). The authors reflect on their process of theorizing about information phenomena as the basis for approaching a new joint conceptual area of interest –  information avoidance. The group’s emphasis on slow-learning as an essential process in their research partnership carved out an emergent space from which to construct and build theory. In Digital Platforms, Cultural Heritage Participation and Social Cohesion, Li and Passau describe the findings from a user analysis of a collective memory making endeavor, Online Cenotaph. They suggest that digital heritage platforms can serve as unique spaces for developing and articulating collaborative interpretations of collectively-generated memories. 

In Collaborative Interpretation in Serious Leisure: From Knowledge Sharing to Community Learning, Mansourian described collaborative interpretation that happens in the context of serious leisure such as bonsai growing or birdwatching. Communities (of Interest, of Learning and of Practice) form around serious leisure. In those communities, collaborative interpretation enhances the educational value of leisure activities and boosts a sense of connection and purpose. An important aspect of collaborative interpretation among serious leisure enthusiasts is the long-term engagement and shared history of experiences that, in turn, generate trust, and social bonds necessary for any collaborative interpretation.

In Resource “Accessibility” Is More Than Just “Posting It Online”, Remington, Yu and Page describe the development of guidelines for tagging texts in an online digital archive project. Making the guidelines helps to coordinate collaborative interpretation efforts in a large-scale volunteer project. Guidelines-making is also a valuable management measure to steer the future of resource description effort in the project even if it might be experienced as secondary to the primary effort of tagging texts.

Two of the included articles focus on challenges of working with qualitative data, and how to engage reflexively in analysis and interpretation. In Harmonizing Strong Voices, Santos, Suarez and Talusan address the challenge of coming together around a specific topic that each felt passionate about – media information literacy. Each engaged in the topic from their own background and perspective (as media practitioner, advocate, librarian). The unique perspectives added but also brought challenges to interpretation the authors resolved through an autoethnographic approach. In Monsters in Qualitative Data, Peng poses “monsters” as “manifestations of societal fears, anxieties, and cultural complexities that lurk beneath the surface of human experience” as a challenge to qualitative data analysis, and argues for positioning oneself within the research, transparently disclosing value systems, and collaborative or multiple coding as solutions.

In Collaborative Audio Responses to an Online Collection/Archive, Kneppers explores collaborative work not only as a way to increase engagement with materials that are often difficult to publicly display, but also a way to bring new interlocutors into the fold. Using audio responses to visual art brought the materials into contact with working artists as well as students and scholars. This article emphasizes that collaboration occurs not only in the production or curation of primary texts, but also in generating secondary materials and expanding engagement.

In Facilitating Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Collaborative Research: How Elicitation Storyboards Help, Kenna-Aspell, Rutter, Spillman, Wang and Zamani engage collaboration as a route to inclusivity more explicitly, using mixed media (text and image) as a tool for guiding conversation. Generating visual materials together, a group of people can experience greater feelings of inclusion than they would during conversation alone.

While some papers focused more on collaborative interpretation others emphasized collaboration in general. In The Drivers, Features, and Influence of First Scientific Collaboration Among Core Scholars from Chinese Library and Information Field, Peng points out how collaborations stem from shared networks and interestingly, also to how initial collaborations steer the development of later ones. In Cross-Border Collaboration: A Decade of Advancing Tibetan Studies, Kim approaches collaboration through the lens of a decade long partnership between two university libraries aiming to advance Tibetan Studies collection development and services. Guided by the historical marginalization of Tibetan Studies in North America, the University of Toronto and Columbia University collaborated on acquisition, cataloging to improve access and dialogue among scholars. Despite challenges in available resources to support collaboration and differences in the language and political context, the outcome demonstrates how interdisciplinary collaboration can advance cultural heritage and information science.

Challenges and opportunities with collaborative interpretation

In summary, the articles in this issue illustrate the diversity of hurdles associated with collaborative interpretation but also the rich opportunities to solve them. A major benefit of collaborative interpretation that is visible throughout the texts, is how working with others both helps and forces us to articulate and reflect choices, practices and interpretations. Reflection and articulation enables deeper insights, greater feelings of inclusion, dialogue, trust and better and more human-friendly tools, systems and information. Rather than even attempting to provide a comprehensive overview of the field of collaborative interpretation as a whole, the present special issue obviously only scratches the surface. There are many remaining challenges. For example, how to give voice to truly everyone, not only those that are assumed to be underrepresented, who is performing interpretation and when, what implicit and explicit goals drive collaborative interpretation, and much more. We invite readers to reflect on the knowledge and challenges shared in this special issue as well as the remaining gaps and to bring in their own experiences, interpretations and findings.

Cite this article in APA as: Huvila, I., Krtalić, M., Chen, A. T., Chassanoff, A., & Hodges, J. A. Special issue on collaborative interpretation. (2024, June 11). Information Matters, Vol. 4, Issue 6. https://informationmatters.org/2024/06/introduction-information-matters-special-issue-on-collaborative-interpretation/


  • 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.

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  • Maja Krtalić

    Maja Krtalić is an Associate Professor in the School of Information Management. Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. She teaches courses on records management, digital curation and information access and use. Her research is in information behaviour, personal information management, and cultural heritage preservation.

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  • Annie T. Chen

    I am an Associate Professor of Biomedical Informatics at University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine, where I lead the Language, Behavior, and Context lab. I am also an affiliate of the eScience Institute and the Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology, and hold adjunct faculty appointments in the UW Information School and UW Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures, where I am co-director of the Svoboda Diaries Project, a lab that engages students in research and/or historical preservation activities. I received a BA in Psychology from Harvard University and MSIS and PhD degrees in Information Science from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. My work sits at the conceptual intersection of modeling/studying psychosocial and communicative processes in different life contexts to develop strategies for improving everyday life.

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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.