i3 conference I attended a talk from Dr Rebekah Willson on Information in transition: the social flow of information.
This was from her doctoral research. It focused on the transition from PhD student to lecturer. She defined transition as a convoluted passage in which people redfine their sense of self .. in response to disruptive life events. The literature indicated that "resources available in the environment have a key mediational role". Willson also connected transition to the concept of liminality, where you are "betwixt and between" in the process of crossing from one space (literal or metaphorical) to another. This can be a time of not-belonging, when you are marginalised, and examining this place of transition can be fruitful for researchers wanting to uncover problematic areas, exclusions etc.
She gathered data from 20 early career academics, 10 Canadians and 10 Australians, in a variety of arts and humanities degrees, and from a total of 10 universities.
In terms of findings (1) Information needs. They had increased information needs, they change over time and in terms of urgency, and there is a lack of accurate up-to-date information (with university procedures unclear/undocumented). (2) Colleagues were very important as information sources. They were a more accurate, complete (including insider, non-codified), convenient and up to date as information sources. Willson referred to McKenzie's (2003) study of ways of finding information, which identified active seeking, active scanning (observing closely et.) and obtaining information by proxy.
(3) Collegial relationships. People found safe spaces by creating information relationships, and collegial relationships enabled social inclusion and support so the new academics could learn nuances of their new roles. Most of this was sharing information face to face, although online networks were used for broader topics.
(4) Bouncing ideas. This was iterative work on an idea, which Willson characterised as "a temporary space created between colleagues to work" - it is moving beyond seeking information, to interaction and enagagement.
(5) Physical proximity and "popinquity" ("tendency of individuals to form close relationships with people they repeatedly encounter"). People mentioned popping into each other's offices etc: there was also the example of the person who was physically isolated (on a difference floor) who suffered from this isolation. Information sharing, information encountering tec. is a by product of the social interaction.
(6) Informality was important - for asking questions you wouldn't like to document, to get the "real" story etc.
In conclusion, colleagues are a key information source, information flows through sharing and encountering, aided by physical proximity and interacting informally.
Future research includes examining the information behaviour of academics on short term contracts.
Photo by Sheila Webber: chairs in Aberdeen University Library