LIS PhD Idea: ‘In Search of Understanding’

This post originally appeared on 05/04/2017, on


The School of Mathematics, Computer Science and Engineering at City, University of London is offering 5 doctoral scholarships for research students who wish to start in September 2017. The School is inviting applications for the scholarships, to be received by May 19th 2017.

The Centre for Information Science would like to put forward a candidate for the project described below, and we would be pleased to hear from potential research students. If you think you would like to work in this growing and important area of library & information science, please drop me a line [].

The project is outlined as a suggestion, which can be further developed to reflect the individual interests of the researcher.

We would also be interested to hear from applicants who have alternative funding, or who are able to pay fees and support themselves.

More information can be found on the School webpage.


In Search of Understanding


The promotion of understanding, as opposed to simply the providing of information or the sharing of knowledge, has gained increased recognition in the past three years as an objective for library and information science (LIS), particularly in the context of concerns about the so-called the post-factual society. But how this can be done remains unclear, particularly when the nature of ‘understanding’ itself remains vague.

Within the information sciences, commentators have put forward an informal view of understanding as a special kind of knowledge, lying on a spectrum between knowledge and wisdom. More formal analysis within LIS has usually invoked hermeneutic philosophy in general, and Gadamer and Heidegger in particular, in discussing understanding, but this has not yet led to helpful insights for the discipline, still less to improvements in design of systems and services. David Bawden and Lyn Robinson (2016a, 2016b) have put forward the outline of a concept of understanding for LIS based on Luciano Floridi’s Philosophy of Information (PI). The aim of this project is to more fully develop this idea so as to provide a firmly grounded concept of understanding, which may be used establish the place of LIS in the contemporary information environment, and to improve practice.


The project will have three main phases:

  1. Conceptual analysis

This will involve: (a) a content analysis of the literature of all relevant disciplines, including but not limited to LIS, information systems and communications/media studies, to establish the meaning and significance of understanding; (b) philosophical analysis, focusing on situating understanding within the PI framework; (c) analysis of publicly available information systems, to establish the extent to which any promote understanding

  1. Expert analysis

This will involve: (a) a Delphi study of LIS academics and reflective practitioners, on the concept of understanding for LIS; (b) a series of in-depth interviews with scholars from a variety of fields, for the same purpose; (c) a critical incident study, to identify examples of information systems (in the broadest sense) enhancing understanding

  1. Conceptual design

This will involve the outline design of an information system (or systems) which would have the explicit aim of helping its users improve their understanding of a topic or issue, rather than just providing them with information about it


The project will have both academic and practical impact. Academically, it will help to establish the conceptual and theoretical framework for the LIS discipline, in particular enhancing its philosophical foundations. This in turn will affect disciplinary syllabi. Practically, it will pave the way towards a new generation of information systems, focused on understanding rather than information and knowledge. This in turn should provide some amelioration for the problems of the post-factual society.


The supervisors will be Prof David Bawden and Dr Lyn Robinson. Prof Luciano Floridi (Oxford Internet Institute) has agreed to act advisor.


Applicants for this studentship need to have: a good degree in a relevant subject (e.g. LIS, information systems, philosophy, communications and media studies, publishing); demonstrable ability for conceptual analysis and evaluation of information; demonstrable ability in communication and dissemination of information (through, e.g. publication of papers or blog posts)


At least three papers will be published in major journals of relevant subject areas (e.g. Journal the Association for Information Science and Technology, Journal of Documentation, Social Epistemology), and at least one paper presented at a major conference (e.g. the Conceptions of Library and Information Science (CoLIS) conference). A close of project meeting would be held at the university, in conjunction with a professional association such as CILIP, to publicis the results. A project blog, supplemented by Twitter, will promote and share the on-going progress of the project. Interim results and data sets will be made available in the City University Repository, and in the external Humanities Commons repository.


Bawden, D. and Robinson, L. (2016a), Information and the gaining of understanding, Journal of Information Science, 42(3), 294-299

D Bawden and L Robinson (2016b), “A different kind of knowing”: speculations on understanding in light of the Philosophy of Information. Paper presented at the 9th CoLIS (Conceptions of Library and Information Science) conference, Uppsala, June 25 2016. Open access version in the Humanities Commons at

About lyn

Dr Lyn Robinson is Reader in Library & Information Science, and Head of Department at City, University of London. She established and directs the Library School, and co-directs the Centre for Information Science alongside Prof David Bawden. Contact:
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