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Making Space for Information Management

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Spring 2011

Joan Donovan (PAL, CCE)

In August of 2010, I undertook an internship with the Ocean Informatics team located at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where I worked alongside Karen Baker to research the history and development of their Design Studio.  The harried halls of Scripps proved a fortuitous space for me to grow as a scholar of Sociology and Science Studies at the University of California San Diego. Science Studies is a program dedicated to bridging the disciplines of sociology, history, communications, and philosophy in an effort to enrich our understanding of the social contexts for knowledge production in science. I had a two-fold objective when studying the Ocean Informatics team. First, I desired to learn more about science-in-action through conversations with information managers, scientists, programmers, and researchers who sought to preserve their data for the long term. Second, I was excited to participate in the work of information management as it developed day to day.  In the course of this internship, Karen and I were able to develop and issue a technical report titled: “The Shape of Information Management: Fostering Collaboration across Data, Science, and Technology in a Design Studio.”

Using the concepts of cultural theorist Michel de Certeau on space and place, our report describes the history and use of the Ocean Informatics Design Studio located at Scripps through the narratives of those who traverse it. This Design Studio was built with the intended purpose of supporting collaboration among information managers, computer programmers, and scientists/researchers in oceanographic research. However, as demands for digital data grow, so do the purposes for the Design Studio and the responsibilities of the Ocean Informatics team. Through the methods of ethnographic research and semi-structured interviews, we illustrate how the Design Studio works as a piece of infrastructure within this community. 

By examining the multiple functions of the Design Studio from the perspectives of a range of users, we found that the space of the studio exerts a paradoxical influence on the collaborative work of information management and scientific practice. While insiders viewed the studio as a dynamic space for collaboration and innovation, outsiders regarded it as a rather conventional place for formal meetings and product demonstrations that nevertheless had an impact on their research practices at sea. This indicates that scientists take the concerns and advice of information managers seriously, especially as it pertains to preparing data and documenting metadata for storage in data repositories.  

As well, we found that the location of the Ocean Informatics team on the grounds of Scripps provided ample opportunities for informal meetings in hallways and at lunch tables with scientists and researchers. These impromptu meetings were roundly considered immensely important for OI product development and documenting changes in metadata. Overall, this highlights the need for information managers to stay locally engaged with science so that both disciplines can symbiotically develop and share knowledge.