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Dr Michael Olsson


Dr Michael Olsson is an active researcher in the field of information behaviour/information practices research, with a particular interest in information/knowledge sharing through in academic, professional and artistic communities. His work is essentially interdisciplinary and has appeared in leading international research journals and conferences in a range of different fields, including Information Studies, Communication and Knowledge Management. He is strongly associated with the emergence of new discourse analytic and social constructivist approaches to information research, focusing particularly on the social construction of information & knowledge and the inter-relationship of meaning and authority (Knowledge/Power). He has a strong interest in the relationship between theory, research and professional practice. He is the recipient (with Aroney and Van Leeuwen) of the 2011 UTS Excellence in Learning & Teaching Award for Strengthening the UTS Model of Learning. He was Program Track Chair for the ‘Information’ Track at the prestigious 2012 American Society for Information Science & Technology Annual Meeting. He is President-elect of the Asia-Pacific chapter of the Association for Information Science & Technology.


President-elect, Asia-Pacific Chapter, Association for Information Science & Technology.

Member, Research Committee, Australian Library & Information Association, 2008-.
Council Founding Member, International Council on Knowledge Management, 2007-.

Image of Michael Olsson
Senior Lecturer, IKM and Digital Studies Program
Graduate Course Adviser, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Core Member, Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Research Centre
BA (Syd), MA (UTS), PhD (UTS)
+61 2 9514 2722

Research Interests

My current  research project is 'From Mud to Museum: Making Sense of Archeology'.. This international, multi-disciplinary study seeks to develop a deeper understanding of how archeologists and museum professionals make sense of archeological sites and artefacts. The study will follow the ‘journey’ of artefacts from their discovery in the field, through their analysis by different specialists, their classification and conservation at archeological repositories, and, in some cases, their ultimate display in museums. The study used multiple case studies including: the Iron Age Broch of Gurness and Neolithic Ness of Brodgar excavations on Orkney; the pre-Columbian Moundville Archaeological Park in Alabama, USA; the Nicholson Museum, University of Sydney; and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge. By including as case studies different sites and institutions specialising in different historical periods in different countries, the study will provide insights into how practices differ in these different contexts and, by doing so, provide opportunities for international knowledge sharing. The second phase of the project will use the findings of this research to help develop digital resources which will aid archeologists and museum professionals, as well as providing enhanced access to their discoveries and collections for a worldwide online audience.

My previous major research project, Making Sense of Shakespeare, looked at how theatre professionals (actors, designers, directors etc.) make sense of a culturally iconic author. The findings of the study were based on interviews with 35 theatre professionals in Canada, Finland and the UK, including 14 from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival of Canada, North America’s largest and most prestigious classical repertory theatre, and 12 from Shakespeare’s Globe in London. Other participants include actors, writers and directors associated with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre and the Central School of Speech & Drama in the UK and the Tampereen Työväen Teatteri in Finland. Publications based on this research have appeared in leading research journals including Library and Information Science Research and Libri, major international conferences including the 2009 Information: Interactions and Impact (i3) conference held at The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK, 22–25 June 2009 and the 2010 American Society for Information Science & Technology Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, PA 22-27 October 2010, as well as in a chapter of the book Social Information Research.

Can supervise: Yes

People, Information and Knowledge; Information Cultures; Information Research and Data Analysis; Information Architecture and Design;Information & Knowledge Management Project; Information & Knowledge Management Major Paper.


Narayan, B. & Olsson, M. 2013, 'Sense-making across space and time: Implications for the organization and findability of information', John Wiley and Sons Inc..
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This paper presents the results from a study of information behaviors, with specific focus on information organisation-related behaviours conducted as part of a larger daily diary study with 34 participants. The findings indicate that organization of information in everyday life is a problematic area due to various factors. The selfevident one is the inter-subjectivity between the person who may have organized the information and the person looking for that same information (Berlin et. al., 1993). Increasingly though, we are not just looking for information within collections that have been designed by someone else, but within our own personal collections of information, which frequently include books, electronic files, photos, records, documents, desktops, web bookmarks, and portable devices. The passage of time between when we categorized or classified the information, and the time when we look for the same information, poses several problems of intra-subjectivity, or the difference between our own past and present perceptions of the same information. Information searching, and hence the retrieval of information from one's own collection of information in everyday life involved a spatial and temporal coordination with one's own past selves in a sort of cognitive and affective time travel, just as organizing information is a form of anticipatory coordination with one's future information needs. This has implications for finding information and also on personal information management.
Olsson, M.R. 2012, ''Ciphers to this Great Accompt' - the Shakespearian Social Sense-Making of Theatre Professionals' in Widen, G. & Holmberg, K. (eds), Social information Research, Emerald, Bingley UK, pp. 17-42.
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Purpose To develop a broader understanding of sense-making as an embodied process of social construction. Methodology/approach Extended conversational interviews (Seidman, 1991) were undertaken with 35 prominent theatre professionals in Canada, Finland and the UK exploring the events and relationships that shaped their relationship with Shakespeare and his work. Inductive analysis was carried out inspired by a variety of theoretical lenses, including Dervins Sense-Making and Foucauldian discourse analysis. Findings Participants sense-making was quintessentially social in that it was not only linked to their social connections and relationships with other members of the company but also a process of social construction drawing on a variety of disparate, and sometimes contradictory, established discourses. In contrast to prevailing approaches in information behaviour, the findings emphasise the importance of understanding sense-making in a more holistic way: as a process involving emotions as well as rationality, bodies as well as minds. Research implications Information researchers need to adopt a more holistic approach to understanding the relationship between people and information: to recognise that atomistic approaches focussing on the purposive information seeking of individuals reflect an implicit systems-centrism rather than peoples lived experience. Practical implications Information researchers and practitioners need to consider the social affective and embodied nature of sense-making and consider, for example, the ways in which online social networking sites build on centuries-old communal knowledge sharing practices. Originality/value of paper The study extends our understanding of the importance of affect and embodiment for peoples sense-making, while at the same time demonstrating that they, like language are the products of social construction, both the object and generator of discourse.
Olsson, M.R. 2010, 'Michel Foucault: Discourse PowerKnowledge and the Battle for Truth' in Leckie, G.J., Given, L.M. & Buschman, J.E. (eds), Critical Theory for Library and Information Science: Exploring the Social from Across the Discipline, ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, California, pp. 63-74.
Halbwirth, S. & Olsson, M.R. 2007, 'Working in parallel: Themes in Knowledge Management and Information Behaviour' in Hawamdeh, S. (ed), CREATING COLLABORATIVE ADVANTAGE THROUGH KNOWLEDGE AND INNOVATION, World Scientific, Singapore, pp. 69-89.
This paper brings together approaches, theories and research from two complementary fields: knowledge management and information behaviour research.
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Olsson, M.R. & Henninger, M. 2014, 'Making Sense of Archaeology: From Mud to Metadata'.
Olsson, M.R., Heizmann, H. & Yerbury, H. 2013, 'Active Citizenship and Knowledge Management: A Practice-based Perspective', Active Citizenship by Knowledge, Management & Innovation. Proceedings of the Management, Knowledge, and Learning International Conference 2013, ToKnowPress, Bangkok, Celje, Lublin, pp. 525-532.
Active Citizenship and Knowledge Management: A Practice-based Perspective
Olsson, M.R. 2011, 'Author-Constructs & Trojan horse-ing: Academic citation as a strategic discursive practice', Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, Wiley, USA, pp. 1-8.
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This paper draws on the findings of a study of 15 international information researchers' relationship with an author work prominent in the literature of their field (Brenda Dervin) to examine academic citation practices in a new light. Drawing on social constructivist theories, derived in part from Foucault's approach to discourse analysis, and a methodology drawing on aspects of Dervin's (1999) Sense-Making and Glaser & Strauss' (1967) inductive analytic techniques, it seeks to examine citation as a strategic discursive practice.
Olsson, M.R. 2010, 'All the World's a Stage: Making Sense of Shakespeare', Navigating Streams in an Information Ecosystem: Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology Annual Meeting, Pittsburgh PA Oct 22-27, American Society for Information Science and Technology, USA, pp. 1-10.
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This paper reports on the findings of a study examining how theatre professionals (actors, directors and others) make sense of the works of a culturally iconic author (William Shakespeare). The findings of the study are based on interviews with 35 theatre professionals in Canada, Finland and the UK. The study aims a more holistic approach to the study of information behaviour, one which acknowledges the complexity of sense-making as more than the problem-solving behaviour of individuals as an embodied, social process, involving emotion as well as rationality. In doing so it draws on theoretical approaches from a range of different disciplines and traditions, including Dervin's Sense-Making, Foucault's discourse analysis and Derrida's deconstructionism.
Olsson, M.R. & Halbwirth, S. 2006, 'Working in Parallel: Themes in Knowledge Management', The Third International Conference on Knowledge Management, University of Greenwich, London UK, pp. 69-88.
Olsson, M.R. 2005, 'Beyond 'Needy' Individuals: Conceptualizing Information Behavior', Sparkling Synergies - Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, American Society for Information Science and Technology, Silver Spring Maryland USA, pp. 1-17.
Understanding information users and their behavior is a question of central importance for information research and practice. The paper challenges several aspects of existing approaches to understanding information behaviour, including: the focus on individual cognition at the expense of social and affective factors; the construction of information users as defined by their areas of ignorance and uncertainty, rather than their expertise; and the focus on purposive rather than non-purposive information behavior. It argues that only by addressing these weaknesses and developing new research strategies and theoretical frameworks which focus attention on the social processes and relationships which underpin users? information behavior can we hope to develop a truly holistic understanding of the relationship between people and information. It also argues that social constructivist approaches provide a theoretical lens through which information researchers can gain a clearer picture of information users not as ?needy? individuals to be ?helped?, but as social beings, experts in their own life-worlds.
Olsson, M.R. 2005, 'Social sense-making - Constructing Shakespear: A potential application of sense-making methodology', 2005 ICA Sense-making workshop, n/a, http://communication.sbs.ohio-state/sense-making/meet/2005/meet/2005/mee....
Olsson, M.R. 2005, 'Sense-making Methodology', 2005 ICA Sense-making Workshop, n/a, http://communication.sbs.ohio-state/sense-making/meet/2005/meet/2005/mee....
Olsson, M.R. 2004, 'Understanding Users: Context Communication and Construction', Challenging Ideas, ALIA, online, pp. 1-9.
Olsson, M.R. 1999, 'Discourse: A New Theoretical Framework for Examining Information Behaviour in its Social Context', Exploring the Contexts of Information Behaviour - Proceedings of the 2nd Information Seeking in Context Conference, Taylor Graham, London.
Olsson, M.R. 1999, 'Discourse: Understanding Groups', Pathways to Knowledge: Australian Library and Information Association 5th Biennial Conference and Exhibition: conference proceedings, Australian Library and Information Association, Canberra.

Journal articles

Olsson, M. 2014, 'Information Practices in Contemporary Cosmopolitan Civil Society', Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 79-79.
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Olsson, M.R. 2013, 'Making Sense of Shakespeare: a Cultural Icon for Contemporary Audiences', Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 14-31.
The works of William Shakespeare are more popular in the 21st century than ever before. Why are theatre and audiences around the globe still drawn to his work? How do they make sense of these texts in ways that resonate with their cosmopolitan, contemporary audiences? This article uses the findings of a study interviewing 35 theatre professionals in Canada, Finland and the United Kingdom to explore these issues. Theoretically and methodologically, it is a bricolage, drawing on a range of approaches including Foucaults discourse analysis, and Hobsbawms invented traditions to understand participants sense-making as a social practice. It argues that attempting to understand the significance of a major cultural icon such as Shakespeare in contemporary cosmopolitan civil society needs to recognise the many meanings, roles and significances that surround him and that this complexity makes it unlikely that any one theoretical lens will prove adequate on its own.
Olsson, M.R. 2010, 'The play's the thing: Theater professionals make sense of Shakespeare', LIBRARY & INFORMATION SCIENCE RESEARCH, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 272-280.
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Olsson, M.R. 2010, 'All the World's a Stage - the Information Practices and Sense-Making of Theatre Professionals', LIBRI, vol. 60, no. 3, pp. 241-252.
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Olsson, M.R. 2007, 'Power/knowledge: The discursive construction of an author', Library Quarterly, vol. 77, no. 2, pp. 219-240.
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This article reports the findings of a study examining the social/discursive construction of an author (Brenda Dervin) by an international community of researchers (information behavior researchers). A crucial conceptual starting point for the study was
Olsson, M.R. 2005, 'Meaning and authority: the social construction of an 'author' among information behaviour researchers', Information Research-An International Electronic Journal, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 1-18.
Introduction. The study explores the social processes that influence the construction by academic ( information behaviour) researchers of the meaning(s) and significance of an author and her work prominent in the literature of their field ( Brenda Dervin
Olsson, M.R. 2005, 'Making Sense of Sense Making: Information behaviour Researchers Construct an "Author"', The Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, vol. 29, no. 3, pp. 315-334.
This paper reports the findings of a study of how members of a scholarly community (15 information behaviour researchers) constructed the meaning(s) and significance(s) of an author whose work is prominent in their field (Brenda Dervin). Its findings reveal the essentially social nature of participants' constructive processes. In shifting theoretical attention from individual cognition to social processes, the study seeks to address criticisms of prevailing approaches to information behaviour research voiced by critics such as Frohmann (1992), Talja (1997), and Julien (1999). In highlighting the social nature of participants' constructive processes, the paper both builds on and challenges prevailing conceptions of information behaviour.
Olsson, M.R. 1998, 'The Discourses of Contemporary Information Science Research: An Alternative Approach', Information Research, vol. 4, no. 2, October.
Olsson, M.R. 1997, 'Foucault: Approaches to Understanding the Text in Context', Keyword: Journal of the Australian Society of Technical Communicators, vol. 7, no. 3, November.