Information Ecology

This term needs to be rescued from clichédom, because we need it badly. A recent article by Barbara Fister from Library Issues (January 2003: "What Do They Know? Assessing the Library's Contribution to Student Learning") exemplifies the problem, summarizing research on the "impact... of library collections and programs have on student learning." She enumerates several (contradictory) surveys, describes a variety of approaches to learning more, and concludes: "What do students know? Let's ask them and find out."
...and here I would say "let's ask them to find out", converting this into an ethnographic challenge.
Two recent books and a variety of other materials define the landscape of Information Ecology:
Davenport and Prusak 1997 Information Ecology: Mastering the Information and Knowledge Environment (Oxford UP)

Nardi and O'Day 1999 Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart (MIT Press)

Chapter Four: Information Ecologies (Nardi and O'Day) from Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart, published in 1999 by MIT Press.
We define an information ecology to be a system of people, practices, values, and technologies in a particular local environment. In information ecologies, the spotlight is not on technology, but on human activities that are served by technology.

A library is an information ecology. It is a place with books, magazines, tapes, films, and librarians who can help you find and use them. A library may have computers, as well as story time for two-year-olds and after-school study halls for teens. In a library, access to information for all clients of the library is a core value. This value shapes the policies around which the library is organized, including those relating to technology. A library is a place where people and technology come together in congenial relations, guided by the values of the library.

...We introduce the concept of the information ecology in order to focus attention on relationships involving tools and people and their practices. We want to travel beyond the dominant image of the tool metaphor, an image of a single person and his or her interactions with technology. And we want to capture a notion of locality that is missing from the system view.

...Mediators - people who build bridges across institutional boundaries and translate across disciplines - are a keystone species in information ecologies. Ironically, their contributions are often unofficial, unrecognized, and seemingly peripheral to the most obvious productive functions of the workplace. Although the success of new tools may rely on the facilitation of mediators who can shape the tools to fit local circumstances, technology is too often designed and introduced without regard to the roles these people play.

INFORMATION ECOLOGY A position paper (version 1.0) for PROBE, the Think Tank at the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, FIS, UofT (

Towards an Information Ecology (Raphael Capurro, 1989)