Your Information Environment

We are living in a time where millions believe they are well informed if they watch one broadcast network, take a peek at a social networking site, and maybe do a few web searches. Those who are knowledgeable in fact-based research skills are disturbed by the impact of this broad perception.

…recorded knowledge did not begin in 1983…

Understanding the credibility and authority of an information source has become a lost art. However, many, including virtually all librarians and educators, would argue this knowledge is more important than ever. Indeed, librarians and educators spend considerable time trying to convince today’s researchers and students recorded knowledge did not begin in 1983 with the invention of the World Wide Web!

A Note on Scholarly Journals

Early Motor Trend magazine.

In Junior High School, I had no idea what a scholarly journal was. The magazines I looked at included Motor Trend, Popular Photography, Popular Science, and Consumer Reports. My understanding was a scholarly journal had the word “journal” in the title – like the “American Journal of Political Science.”

In the junior high school debate team setting being able to say – “as written about in the XYZ Journal,” was impactful and impressive, even if I did not understand all the details of the scope and authority of the source being cited.

Years later, after getting a master’s degree in Library Science, working in an academic library and on the vendor side of the information industry, I developed a detailed understanding of scholarly publications, peer-review, citation analysis, and “body-of-knowledge.”

Why should you care about Body of Knowledge?

Wikipedia offers five distinct, but related, definitions of body of knowledge (BOK or BoK). (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_of_knowledge)

Gary R. Oliver in his frequently cited book “Foundations of the Assumed Business Operations and Strategy Body of Knowledge (BOSBOK): An Outline of Shareable Knowledge,” offers this definition – “A set of knowledge within a profession or subject area which is generally agreed as both essential and generally known.” Or, “…the complete set of concepts, terms and activities that make up a professional domain, as defined by the relevant learned society or professional association.”

Other definitions of BOK listed in Wikipedia include:

  • “It is a type of knowledge representation by any knowledge organization.”
  • “Structured knowledge that is used by members of a discipline to guide their practice or work.”
  • “The prescribed aggregation of knowledge in a particular area an individual is expected to have mastered to be considered or certified as a practitioner.”
  • “BOK is a steppingstone to unifying community” (Waite 2004).

Bodies of knowledge incorporate range of opinion and move forward with on-going confirmation including observation of changing methods and scholarly research with empirical study. Implicit in every BOK is context.

For example, the BOK for a specific aspect of engineering is different than the BOK for urban planning. Regardless, practitioners within a discipline are expected to have a working understanding of the appropriate BOK to inform and guide their work. Some fields of study require certification, but not all.

BOK implies the use of multiple sources and document types

From the research perspective, seeking to understand a BOK implies the use of multiple sources and document types. This ranges from essential books on the subject, to peer-reviewed scholarly journals, Masters and PhD theses, trade publications, and current news.

Today, when historic development and documentation of human progress and knowledge have become controversial topics, it is especially important to understand there is a knowledge foundation. Perhaps Waite’s notion of unifying has a broader implication than originally intended.

I recall being on a panel with a senior engineer from a well-known aerospace firm. This individual graduated with a degree in environmental engineering but was hired for an aerospace position. He needed to get up to speed in the core subject areas that drove the company’s work.

As a “library power user,” he described how he discovered the fundamental books in the area, and then updated himself via the study of the scholarly literature, consisting of peer-reviewed journal articles and conference papers. Based on his learning, he went on to lead product teams that generated more than $500M in revenue for the organization! Talk about putting knowledge into practice!

There are defined weights for patio umbrella stands based on the size of the umbrella.

Not every person needs or wants to be an expert researcher, but everyone wants to make good decisions. It doesn’t matter if you are installing patio umbrellas, or trying to resolve a complex issue, some understanding of the related body of knowledge is essential. A complex world demands it.

Today pretty much everything is online, even the scholarly journals. However, they are behind paywalls. Researchers need to be aware of and learn how to use these subscription “library databases” to access this premium content.

The benefit is significant – finding the best stuff to support their research or assignments or decision making. This cannot be done using broadcast media and the open Web. Remember the “secret weapon” – consult with the library. These paywall resources are very different from open websites.

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