Saturday, February 05, 2005

I Thought You'd Never ASK

3.2 Belkin, N.J. (1980). Anomalous states of knowledge as a basis for information retrieval. Canadian Journal of Information Science, 133-143.

Dr. Nick Belkin, who is credited with the theory known by the clever acronym ASK is one of the theorists who moved away from IR theory focused on system to theory based on the synthesis of previous schema, mainly Taylor’s and Kochen’s, both based on the user’s recognition that something is wrong in the situation of the user.
The original audience for this concept was IR specialists. Now the audience is both library students and IR specialists. The basic nagging question is: how do we make sense of a vague question and be of service to a user of information?
There are things that we know completely, and other things which we would like to know, but we do not have the ability to transform them from their blurry (anomalous) state into a coherent question of 25 words or less. Theoretically, people do not want information; they want to solve problems. that brings information seeking behavior to another level. All library work and information seeking is built on this foundation. But, what is information -- something that comes in packets, knowledge communicated, something that contains a message. Sounds elementary. But it isn’t. New ways to look at info seeking as purpose oriented or task oriented. HIB differs from person to person depending on the level (from individual to cultural); context ( environmental, long-term short-term, important or unimportant; kinds ( generating, disseminating, collecting, etc.).
Nick Belkin is famous for developing the ASK model (anomalous state of knowledge), which has been cited and built upon by current scholars in LIS. It is a cognitive model, which means that theoretically its focus is concerned with the mental activities of users, not the capabilities of the machines/systems that serve human needs for information seekers.
Process of information seeking is not linear, but circuitous or iterative. ASK changes by receiving information. That is, the answer (intermediate search) will and can change the question and change the direction of the user and his/her behavior.
Belkin believes that the ASK framework brings up more problems than answers, but that is the nature of LIS today, to attract more researchers to work on solutions to non-specifiable needs and how to translate them into commands which locate the right information, which can be complex and abstract or concrete.
Much work still needs to be done on retrieving information, but Google is still the best for most people’s money. After all, your librarian even “googles,” although an admission in writing may be a stretch.
What other search engine has its own dictionary entry? Well, what other search engine has become part of our everyday vocabulary, and has its own dictionary entry? Google is God, some say. Regardless of what some say, what Webster says, matters.
Terms to take away from this article: human generator, human user, non-specifiability of need
Despite the fact that there is little explanation of basic definitions by the author and the diagrams do not support the material, this is an early article that paved the way for further research (just as the author had hoped it would 25 years ago).

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