Re-post: Commentary on: The persistence of behavior and form in the organization of personal information

Feb 10 2012 Published by under Information Science

This was originally posted on my blog on November 17, 2007. Deborah Barreau passed away this morning from cancer. There's a lovely message from Gary Marchionini on asis-l.


This post is a review and commentary on: Barreau, D. (2008). The persistence of behavior and form in the organization of personal information. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 59, 307-317. DOI: 10.1002/asi.20752

Goal: Barreau re-visits her 1993 study (published in 1995) in which she interviewed seven managers to determine how they manage electronic documents. In particular, in her 1995 study, her goal was to examine how Kwasnik's (1991) dimensions of organization of print materials translated into the electronic domain. In this study, her goal is to learn what has changed in the more than ten years and what impact new technologies have had.

Methods: Her sample consists of 4 of the 7 managers interviewed in her earlier study. She asked the participants broad questions on what personal information they have in their office, how they got it, how they organize it, and how they find things in it. She also asked what changes they would like to see in the technology.

The responses were coded using Kwasnik's dimensions. No information is provided on how the interviews were conducted and how the coding was actually performed. There are mentions of transcripts and notes, however. A sample of the statements were "double-coded" and an intercoder reliability check was done. (I almost missed this bit because the html is a bit goofy to read)

Results: I will just pull out a few interesting points here.

  • participants saw their intranet as an extension of personal space when they had bookmarked or used send to desktop as a link to keep some information.
  • they bookmark stuff and then never use it
  • participants were split between keeping a clean e-main in box by acting on or deleting things immediately and reporting that their e-mail was out out of control
  • retrieval is through browsing an ordered list

Changes they would like to see: synchronized single sign on

Conclusions: Many things remained the same. The way the managers name files, and use catch-all directories were two things in particular. Some things that have changed include the extension of the personal space to include bookmarked things from the web and the sheer number of different systems required to do the job. New dimensions are suggested to update Kwasnik's listing.

Commentary: My immediate reaction to this article was very positive -- mostly perhaps because it resonates with my own findings (Pikas, 2007). More information on methods is required to adequately judge the validity and transferability of this work.

She makes the point that corporations need to do better to back up user's work. This is something that also came out in my study. It could be that the corporations *are* doing a good job of backing information up but are not *communicating* well enough so that users trust the backups.

She also makes the point that organizations need to do better with e-mail. First, for records management purposes, they should discourage the retention of older e-mails. I strongly, strongly disagree with this. Much valuable information is included in e-mails - only in e-mails - and there should not be an arbitrary retention policy requiring their deletion if the user finds them useful (yes, I do know about e-discovery, but if you're not doing anything wrong- I guess I'm naive). Second, she states that organizations should do something about advertising e-mails received (ok, this is fine), about broader distribution lists than are required for the job (ok, I was getting e-mails in Maryland once for things lost and found in the Philadelphia office- so this is clearly a management issue), and about too many interruptions. I disagree about the interruptions truly being a something that the organization as a whole can/should fix through rule making. This article speaks to me that more training is required on the effective use of e-mail and IM. Perhaps the users should employ a do not disturb message on IM and log out of e-mail if they are working on an intensive task.

This is my first use of the BPR3 logo so I would be happy to take comments on that (or complaints if I'm not doing it right!)

Barreau, D.K. (1995). Context as a factor in personal information management systems. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology , 46(5), 327-339. DOI:10.1002/(SICI)1097-4571(199506)46:5<327::aid-asi4>3.0.CO;2-C

Kwasnik, B. H. (1991). The importance of factors that are not document attributes in the organization of personal documents. Journal of Documentation, 47(4), 389-398.

Pikas, C. K. (2007). Personal information management strategies and tactics used by senior engineers. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, Milwaukee, WI , 44 paper 14. (This will be made available open access 90 days after the conference)


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