Journal of Information Science Theory and Practice (Jun 2013)

Beyond Categories: A Structural Analysis of the Social Representations of Information Users' Collective Perceptions on 'Relevance'

  • Ju, Boryung,
  • O'Connor, Daniel O.

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 1, no. 2
pp. 16 – 35


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Relevance has a long history of scholarly investigation and discussion in information science. One of its notable concepts is that of 'user-based' relevance. The purpose of this study is to examine how users construct their perspective on the concept of relevance; to analyze what the constituent elements (facets) of relevance are, in terms of core-periphery status; and to compare the difference of constructions of two groups of users (information users vs. information professionals) as applied with a social representations theory perspective. Data were collected from 244 information users and 123 information professionals through use of a free word association method. Three methods were employed to analyze data: (1) content analysis was used to elicit 26 categories (facets) of the concept of relevance; (2) structural analysis of social representations was used to determine the core-periphery status of those facets in terms of coreness, sum of similarity, and weighted frequency; and, (3) maximum tree analysis was used to present and compare the differences between the two groups. Elicited categories in this study overlap with the ones from previous relevance studies, while the findings of a core-periphery analysis show that Topicality, User-needs, Reliability/Credibility, and Importance are configured as core concepts for the information user group, while Topicality, User-needs, Reliability/Credibility, and Currency are core concepts for the information professional group. Differences between the social representations of relevance revealed that Topicality was similar to User-needs and to Importance. Author is closely related to Title while Reliability/Credibility is linked with Currency. Easiness/Clarity is similar to Accuracy. Overall, information users and professionals function with a similar social collective of shared meanings for the concept of relevance. The overall findings identify the core and periphery concepts of relevance and their relationships in terms of coreness, similarity, and weighted frequency.