INFO 200: Information Communities – Art Historians

I am re-posting a blog entry I wrote for class here because I enjoyed the topic. Information communities and information behavior are so interesting. If I have free time in the future, I will write more about it, but for now I am focused on assignments!

For a while, I debated about if I wanted to research a very broad community or a more specific community. I considered humanities researchers, historians, art historians, professors, or students. Although they are all information communities of interest, I decided on the information community I am most specifically interested in working with. My information community that I will focus on in my research is the art historian community. My undergraduate studies were in art history and I eventually want to go on for a doctorate in Japanese art history, and I am involved in some professional communities already, so I feel very connected to this information community. It will be fun and rewarding to explore. Art historians have a specific set of needs including primary and secondary sources, journals, and images. Thus far, this is the community I am most interested in working with, and I think they have a unique and varied set of needs and qualities for an information group.

According to Fisher and Durrance (2003), there are five characteristics of information communities to consider in this research. Information communities “exploit information sharing qualities of technology” for the benefit of their community (Fisher & Durrance, 2003). I will seek information on how art historians deal with image and resource sharing online and what venues are most used. How community members deal with licensing rights is also of interest. University libraries may have a limited number of art literature, and having academic journal sets is expensive and takes up a lot of space. The internet and databases are extremely important to this community in solving these problems and more. The use of technology creates a need to be connected and foster relationships. I often see art historians asking for help on research, on interviewing artists or experts, and on finding specific resources.

The second characteristic is that information communities not only collaborate but rely on that collaboration (Fisher & Durrance, 2003). As stated before, art historians often need to collaborate on research. Research could not be completed to its point of depth without collaboration. In addition, communities are responsive to the members’ needs. I will investigate how scholars share information and support each other. I think that because of the internet, this is easier than ever and makes the community more active. When I was studying, there was not as much of an emphasis on collaboration. Not only was it harder to find relevant and specific information because of this, but also, it was difficult to find community members with a similar focus to collaborate with, as our physical community was very small (under 10 students). Now, collaboration is easier than ever before, so it would be to art historians’ best interest to utilize it to the fullest, and I see many that are.

Another characteristic of information communities involves their interaction with those outside the community. Fisher and Durrance (2003) call these the “cultural, financial, geographical, and physical” barriers. Traditionally, there is a view of academia having barriers. It is perhaps an age-old stereotype that in some cases is true. In my personal experience, there is a lack of diversity in the art historian community (in the United States at least) that stems from it being known as a community for the elite and people outside of the community not viewing it as practical. There will always be people who think this, but how is the art historian information community bringing down these barriers to involve others? In the art history associations that I am in, however, everyone is more than happy to help the public seeking information as well as hobbyists or enthusiasts. I would like to see what the results are in the community overall and if there has been a transformation.

The final characteristic of information communities involves the “social connectedness” of the community (Fisher & Durrance, 2003). This asks how the community interacts with similar communities and connects people. For example, someone finds an old painting and needs it to be identified. Another example I have seen is someone working on a television program and needing information from an expert. If an archivist reaches out to an art historian about an object or document, and they need to be connected to an archaeologist instead, how efficiently will they be connected? “Social connectedness” involves how people will be connected to the correct organizations or resources (Fisher, Unruh, & Durrance, 2003).

The lectures and readings draw many interesting questions for me. What are the information behaviors of the art history community? How active is the community’s information behavior? Is the art historian information community using all its resources and the web to its advantage? How adaptable is the community? How does the information community respond to non-scholarly inquiries? What does a successful art history information community look like? After a quick glance at the literature in addition to my personal experiences, I know this will be a very interesting study.

As an information professional, this study will help me see where there is a need in the community. It will show how art historians interact with information professionals and what kinds of relationships and connections develop. As an advocate of technology and globalism, I hope it will shed light on the interconnectedness of the community and utilization of technology, and it will inform me where there is need or in what way information professionals can improve this aspect of the community.


Fisher, K. E., & Durrance, J. C. (2003). Information communities. In K. Christensen & D. Levinson (Eds.) Encyclopedia of community: From the village to the virtual world (pp. 658-660). doi:10.4135/9781412952583.n248

Fisher, K. E., Unruh, K. T., & Durrance, J. C. (2003). Information communities: Characteristics gleaned from studies of three online networks. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 40(1), 298-305. doi:10.1002/meet.1450400137


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