Re-post: What types of expertise do librarians have?

Feb 28 2014 Published by under librarians

There's a discussion of librarian expertise on FriendFeed right now in the LSW room. It prompted me to look for this post and when I realized how long ago it was I decided to repost here. Gosh, I used to have more time for posting!

In trying to define exploratory search for a current project, I've been confronted with a few different types of expertise. Marchionini (1995) describes 3 types:

  1. domain
  2. systems (how to actually use the search interface)
  3. information seeking (more on the structure of information and how to construct searches, etc.)

Apparently domain experts are more likely to go for higher recall because they will be able to browse the results more efficiently (a slightly different explanation from what they themselves report, see my summary of the RIN paper). Librarians are more likely to do analytic searches with more precise concept mapping.

Anyway, I ran across Collins' (2004) description of "interactional expertise". He talks about a sort of middle ground between tacit and explicit knowledge where you can communicate in the language of the domain, but can't practice the activity. (See, I've always thought of this as the stuff that comes out of the back of an intact male bovine creature, which I'm actually fairly decent at).

Basically he says that through linguistic socialization while immersed in the community we pick up tacit knowledge but not the practical skill to "pass as a fully competent member of the form of life once we move beyond language" (p. 127)

Collins goes on to talk about how we can know the differences: contributory knowledge lets you be let loose in the lab and hold your own, where interactional knowledge lets you interact with practitioners by understanding their terminology and getting some of their references. He states that this changes the interview to a conversation when the participant understands that you are able to convey what they are doing.

His cases primarily center on what sociologists of science or knowledge do, but this does have some explanatory power for what librarians do. I've been asked, "do you really have to have a science degree to do what you do?" The answer, of course, is no... but there is some common ground there and the negotiation of the reference question is very much aided by having a bit of domain knowledge. It could be that this is overcome by non-science trained folks through this linguistic socialization. In fact, science folks are all lay people outside of their particular area so all librarians are faced with this.

How can this expertise be built besides immersion (which will be time consuming and also requires the cooperation of the scientist participants)? Reading, observing... hmm.

Also, does this add anything to other descriptions of this phenomenon provided by Clark & Brennan (1993) and others discussing grounding in communication? (well I suppose grounding is an active, interactive process while expertise is a state so... )

Update: actually, this is probably more important when we're judging relevance for our customers when we are acting as search intermediaries... hm..

Clarke, H. H., & Brennan, S. E. (1993). Grounding in communication. In R. M. Baecker (Ed.), Readings in groupware and computer-supported cooperative work: Assisting human-human collaboration (pp. 222-233). San Mateo, CA: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.
Collins, H. (2004). Interactional expertise as a third kind of knowledge. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 3, 125-143.
Marchionini, G. (1995). Information seeking in electronic environments. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

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