Sharing Encountered Information: Digital Libraries get a Social Life

Catherine C. Marshall, Sara A. Bly


As part of a more extensive study of reading-related practices, we have explored how people share information they encounter in their everyday reading as a complement to the more traditional digital library focus on sharing intentionally retrieved materials. In twenty contextual interviews in home and work place settings, we investigated how people encounter and save published material in the form of paper and electronic clippings. We found that sharing forms a significant use for encountered materials. Furthermore, the function of these clippings extends far beyond a simple exchange of content to inform the recipient; in fact, the content itself may have little immediate value to the recipient. We also found the practice to be ubiquitous: all of our participants had both shared clippings with others and received them themselves. Specifically, this paper reports on: (1) how sharing encountered items fits into the broader spectrum of clipping practices; (2) the function and value of the shared information; and (3) the social role of sharing the encountered information. We conclude that from a technological standpoint, we should think beyond an email model for sharing encountered information and, from a social perspective, we should attend to how sharing this sort of material contributes to the strength of social ties outside of a traditional information needs framework.


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