Geographies of information


Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are becoming ubiquitous. According to some visions, in the near future we will have GIS, along with word processors and web browsers, on every desktop. A distinct group of applications, broadly categorized as location-based services (LBS), are intended to deliver information depending on the location of the device and user. This kind of ready access to information and services has the potential to transform both how people use and understand information and how they experience technology. It would offer new capabilities to users, but providing “Everyone their GIS” also brings up many interesting technical, conceptual, and social issues and questions. Technically, these systems require complex infrastructures to support network access and positioning technologies with high reliability and low latency on a wide range of user devices. Conceptually, the management of spatial data for tracking, navigation, and wayfinding, as well as the development of theories and models of spatial cognition, mobile user interfaces, and mobile information retrieval are among the key challenges facing researchers and practitioners. Finally, location data can be used to enhance user feedback and participation or to monitor activity and behavior, posing interesting social and ethical dilemmas.

Many of these questions are of direct relevance to research and practice in information science. Of particular interest would be issues of tracking, mobile search, modeling and visualization, and user interaction, adaptation, and protection. Mobile search, for instance, requires new information retrieval theories and practices that would integrate thematic and spatial aspects of information in a single model. Ubiquitous computing, on the other hand, demands the seamless transmission of information among a large variety of interconnected devices. Current and envisioned handheld mobile devices could be considered personal devices for managing space and place in the same fashion that a watch manages time and events. Combined with mobile communication, such devices generate interesting personal, political, and social opportunities but also concerns over surveillance and privacy.

This panel will discuss a subset of these questions that are most relevant to library and information science. Examples include:

  • How to incorporate “Where,” as a component in a “What, Where, When and Who” metadata infrastructure;
  • How to apply metadata for GIS developed by users to serve the public;
  • How to represent events so that place, time, actions, and actors can be treated holistically;
  • How to develop advanced search techniques that would allow the user to search and organize data on the basis of topic, person, place, institution, etc.;
  • How to assist library staff and patrons to locate items using spatial information;
  • How to use GIS in studying “life paths” (individuals movements through space and time);
  • How to best represent, organize, and visualize information according spatial attributes;
  • How to develop visualization techniques that are specifically geared towards spatial information;
  • How to apply geographic tools and techniques in dealing with questions in information science;
  • How to account for the effect of mobile computing on the collection and dissemination of data;
  • How to develop GIS that is user- and environment-friendly, that can promote equal access and protect user's privacy;
  • How geographic information will transform our notions of place and how will place-aware users transform their worlds.

Four panelists with experience in GIS and technology adoption will speak to the most challenging and potentially transformative aspects of GIS. Following discussion, participants at the session will be challenged to create a list of the developments most likely to transform current thinking about information spaces.