Work and work roles: a context of tasks

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Isto Huvila


Journal of Documentation, Volume 64, Number 6, p.797–815 (2008)



information science, LIS research, task analysis, tasks, work, work roles


Purpose: Both task-based and work oriented research approaches have proved their value in information science research. A task is a workable analytical unit of human activity, which brings the level of explication close enough to cater for individual actions and their consequences. Similarly, work and work roles have been effective concepts at explicating the broad patterns of professional information activity. Major issues of the existing approaches are the difficulty of conceptualising the contexts of tasks and the relatively high level of abstraction of a work level scrutiny. The purpose of this paper is to discuss how the concepts of ‘work’, ‘work role’ and ‘task’ might be integrated into a common research agenda. We suggest that the explication of work and work roles might serve in providing additional understanding on the formation of the purposes, meanings and values, which guide the shaping of the activities conceptualised as tasks.
Methodology/Approach: The issue is discussed in general with a reference to an empirical study of information work of archaeology professionals informed by the notion of work role. 
Findings: It is suggested that the broader notions of work and work roles are useful concepts for explicating the context of more specific tasks.
Research limitations/implications: The suggested approach brings together task and work – work role-based research and provides a basis for exploring human information activity from a broader perspective than before and thus improving the general understanding of why and how information is used as it is used.
Practical implications: The study provides an approach to conceptualise the ways how people work with information and lays the ground for improving information management and organisation practices.
Originality: There has been little prior discussion about integrating the task and work-based approaches. We suggest that the explication of work and work roles might serve in providing additional understanding on the formation of the purposes, meanings and values, which guide the shaping of the activities conceptualised as tasks.

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