I am interested in the creation and administration of public information resources, while several subjects tie my research strand together: notably, e-government, emerging technologies, libraries, public administration, digital media, and Web development. I look at how public service organizations form vast and complex infrastructures that are tasked with promoting different, and sometimes conflicting, objectives. I define these infrastructures to be the systems established by governments and non-profit organizations to disseminate information for public purposes, often enhancing democratic processes.
John Dewey (1939) portrayed democracy as more than a type of government, but also an embodied way of life. Approaching the study of information infrastructures from this perspective, I look at their role in democratic societies, because information is a requisite part of self-government. Because democracy is the context in which I study these infrastructures, I am also interested in how they promote the common good.
J. S. Mill (2012) argued that governments should do more than protect individual rights. He theorized that a legitimate basis of government is to promote the general welfare. Accepting Mill’s premise, I believe that information infrastructures are a tool governments can use to promote the common good. That said, the ideas I have mentioned are only philosophical premises that underlie my work; they are ideals to achieve, rather than the issues I have chosen to study as they speak to my motives. A diagram of my research interests is also available (see Figure 1).
Summary of Interests
If democracy is the context in which I study information infrastructures, and the common good is an objective to strive for, there are two parts of my research. The first deals with bureaucratic systems and includes e-government, libraries, and public administration. The second deals with emerging technologies as they relate to innovation, change, and organizational adaptation. I look at digital media and Web development, because each is a component of new technologies that have changed how information is accessed and/or disseminated. While my interests relate to innovative technologies, I expect to broaden my focus to include traditional communication tools in future research.
One area of my interest relates to e-government. Although e-government is an expansive concept, my study of it is limited to public information. Burroughs (2009) found that the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) is typically accessed through search engines and that users expect content to be digital. Gibson, Bertot, and McClure (2009) demonstrated that public libraries are egalitarian access points for e-government resources. Piotrowski and Van Ryzin (2007) have established that there is an expectation in the United States (U.S.) for citizens to be able to obtain local government records.
My work relating to e-government acknowledges that a robust demand for online access to government information exists. I am interested in building and reforming public information infrastructures to meet demand, which requires planning and coordination in the context of changing technologies and user behaviors. Over the past decade, many journal articles have spoken about user-centered design (Bertot & Jaeger, 2006; Verdegem & Verleye, 2009; Bertot & Jaeger, 2010). These articles noted that one of the largest barriers to e-government stems from a lack of understanding about who will use public services. Although I do not disagree, I believe a larger barrier to the realization of Layne and Lee’s (2001) model of e-government lies in institutional and technical considerations. Simply put, if public administrators face barriers to implementing user-centered e-government, the larger issue is not just design, but how organizational systems function.
Applying this perspective is challenging and potentially unique. One way I have sought to improve public information infrastructures relates to lobbying. Library patrons represent a large and quasi-organized group of citizens. In the context of cloud computing, I argue that digitization increases the risk of government content manipulation (Million & Weech, 2014). To mitigate this risk, I argue that libraries and their advocates can lobby governments to craft legally binding agreements that establish protections on behalf of their patrons. Finally, in my dissertation, I examine the technical infrastructure, which underpins state department of transportation websites. Here I seek to determine if organizational, fiscal, technical, or other barriers prevent managers from implementing what they believe to the “best practices” for their organizations.
The second area of my research pertains solely to libraries. Buschman (2003) argues that the value of public libraries’ lies in the public sphere, because they are the fora in which citizens engage in mediated discourse through communicative action (Habermas, 1984). Touching on this, I have evaluated the emergence of librarianship while looking at the consequences of establishing it in the public sector (Schuster & Million, in press).
Jaeger and Fleishman (2007) previously demonstrated that the values associated with librarianship align with providing e-government service. Correlatively, in my research I have sought to identify new ways in which libraries can contribute to democracy and the common good. One paper, in particular, explores the ability of public libraries to serve as community-based digital preservation and self-publication centers (Moulaison & Million, 2015). In the future, I also hope to explore how public libraries can collaborate with local government agencies by managing digital publications and special datasets that are unavailable elsewhere.
The third area of my interests is public administration. Given that information can be a public good, the infrastructure providing it falls under the purview of government and non-profit organizations. Discussing public services, Weber (1964) provides a sociological description of traditional bureaucracies. Ferlie et al. (1996) discuss a newer service model termed “New Public Administration.” Ferlie and his co-authors argue that efficiency, contracting, and the use of benchmarks characterize New Public Administration. Finally, Collaborative Governance argues that joint efforts between public and private organizations should be used more frequently (Donahue & Zeckhauser, 2012).
Since the distinction between the public and private sector is abstract, my research interests relate to how administrators create and manage infrastructures to promote the common good. Fernandez and Rainey (2006) present a well-cited model of change management in public service organizations. Incorporating their findings, I presented a case study regarding operational reforms at the Missouri State Library (Million & Bossaller, 2015). Based on my findings, I argue that professional knowledge represents a legitimate basis for autonomy as professionals are often better equipped to identify public needs than elected officials. In my dissertation, I also ask whether computational models align with administrative ones and what this means for e-government service. In each case, information infrastructures are portrayed as requiring a clarity of purpose.
My fourth and final area of interest has to do with emerging technologies. I am especially knowledgeable about the roles of digital media and Web development in driving contemporary innovation. I conceptualize innovation similar to Christiansen (1997), who considers it to be a factor in sustaining or disrupting business models. Christiansen builds off the work of Schumpeter (2010), who discussed creative destruction in market economies. While both authors studied the private sector, my interest in technology is based less on the context in which innovation occurs than it is the means by which public sector infrastructures are built and/or reformed.
Taking models like these into account, my work looks at the technological forces that shape information infrastructures. One example relates to the ideas of content and carrier convergence. In a book chapter, I previously argued that convergence applies to trends in library services (Million & Moulaison, 2014). Finally, I have also touched on innovation as it relates to linked data, which is not currently poised to disrupt existing technologies that libraries use to encode their metadata (Moulaison & Million, 2014). My examination of emerging technologies also raises questions about how administrators adapt to changing environments while sustaining information services.
My approach to inquiry can be identified as pragmatic (Hookway, 2013); however, I have also adopted critical and post-positivistic bents in the past. I prefer the application of mixed-methods, but my proficiencies are geared toward producing emergent, qualitative studies that relate to Web-based environments. One example presented by Ivankova, Creswell, and Stick (2006) is the explanatory sequential mixed-methods design, which is useful for explaining survey results. Given that my past research has been pragmatic and dedicated to problem solving, I am interested in finding solutions to problems connected with information infrastructures. Of the problems I examine, most relate to those, which stymie administrators and managers – a point made earlier.
While I am most comfortable applying methods that resemble grounded theory, I have also utilized other research methodologies. In Million et al. (2013), I conducted a survey using natural language to identify the frequency that undergraduates encounter information while evaluating questions using the chi-square test for goodness of fit. More recently, I have worked with data scientists to examine large social media datasets using computational tools. Additionally, I am familiar with critical discourse analysis, which presents a means to analyze and critique language (Fairclough, 2010). Finally, one additional approach that I apply in my work relates to triangulation and validation. Torrance (2012) presents triangulation and validation in light of democratic, egalitarian processes. Given that I view democracy as a way of life, this approach fits well with my philosophical orientation.