Deborah Turner, PhD

Deborah Turner is an Assistant Professor at the Drexel University College of Computing and Informatics.

As a researcher in human information behavior, she is particularly interested in information habits, or practices, used by people who move across contexts over time in order to improve their quality of life. Since finding that this population relies heavily on oral information, she has become particularly known for introducing the concept of the “oral document,” which aids in studying this modality. She also studies how the introduction of data intensive science, or “big data,” affects how we interact with oral information and has a particular interest in how aspiring leaders use information resources to move toward their goals.

Her most recent research trips enabled her to study issues involved with how people in oral cultures negotiate and interact with information. In Uganda, she is learning more about information issues involved in improving maternal and child health. In the midwestern United States, she is studying how public libraries can better provide information to the urban poor. Both projects position her to test practical applications for her conceptual work on oral information to date.

Learn more about Deborah’s research

Deborah’s teaching interests include academic libraries, international information issues, and leadership and management of information organizations. Outside of the academy, she has also taught conflict resolution and creative writing.

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Prior to Drexel, Deborah worked as a librarian in multiple capacities—including senior manager, reference librarian, outreach coordinator, and manuscript specialist—most recently at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She earned her doctorate in information science from the University of Washington, her master’s degree in information and library science from the University of Michigan, and her bachelor’s in English—with a concentration in Native American Studies—from the University of California at Berkeley.

View Deborah’s curriculum vitae

In addition to conducting research as a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Tampere in Finland, Deborah’s travels have taken her to Canada, Cuba, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Uganda, and the United Kingdom.


Selected Publications Available Online


Selected In-Progress Publications

  • Turner, Deborah, & Rodgers, Michelle. Understanding the health information infrastructure in Uganda. IEEE Transactions on Human-Machine Systems.

    Under review.

  • Turner, Deborah. The fourth orality. New Media & Society.

    Under review.

  • Turner, Deborah, and Michelle Rogers. Documents and diagnosis. Information Research.

    Under review.

  • Turner, Deborah. Sustainability and library management education. Journal of Sustainability Education.


  • Turner, Deborah. Reconsidering library collections: Community services as documents. Annual Meeting of the Document Academy. Sydney, Australia, July 2015. Read abstract.


  • Turner, Deborah. Orality, technology, and library services. Annual Meeting of the Association for Information Science and Technology . St. Louis, MO, November 2015.

    Under review.

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Conceptualizing Oral Documents, Abstract

This dissertation proposes and explicates the concept of an oral document as a way to ground an exploratory discussion on orality and information behavior. This study isolates and focuses on information conveyed orally. A review of information behavior and allied literatures is used to explain what orality is and why it is important to information science. The meta-theory of social constructionism is used as a framework for defining and exploring the concept of an oral document. The concept of context additionally informs this effort. A field study methodology is used to gather observational data that demonstrate how utterances fit the definition for a document and incorporate properties of a document. Data analysis results in expanding the initial description of the concept under investigation. Results determine that the conceptualization of an oral document introduced is consistent with the concept of document and provides information researchers with extended capabilities for the study and analysis of information and knowledge that is created and conveyed orally. The dissertation provides recommendations for theory, practice, and future research.


“Can’t you just tell me what to type?”: Urban Libraries Respond, Abstract

Increasingly, the infrastructure of libraries and information organizations assumes online access. Yet, some people, frequently those in underserved populations, just want to talk to someone to get the information they need. This talk will focus on challenges faced when getting talkers to access information online and recommendations for how to overcome those challenges.


Reconsidering Library Collections: Community Services as Documents, Abstract

Traditionally, libraries have made available information situated in objects—books, digitized files, periodicals, videos, and the like. Information professionals and librarians engage in practices, including collection management, resource description, and references services to make these objects available thus ensuring that information the object’s convey can be accessed and used. An object’s format and practices used to maintain it help inform those objects’ status as documents. Changes in LIS professional practices reflect how information increasingly becomes available in untraditional formats. For example, an emerging trend in library space planning involves replacing book shelving with space for computer access, group study, or the production of objects—the latter as part of the Maker Space movement. This investigation considers whether changes in how information and library professionals make information available indicate the emergence of a new type of document.

The social constructionism metatheory informs this study. This metatheory posits that knowledge emerges from what is done (actions or practices), said, or written (Talja, Tuominen, & Savolainen, 2005). Knowledge reflecting change can be slow to appear in writing. However, research shows that people prefer to interact with new information by talking (Huotari and Chatman, 2001; Ikoja-Odongo and Ocholla, 2004; Pezeshki-Rad and Zamani, 2005). In order to identify emerging trends in practice, data collection and analysis used relies on the participant action research methodology (PAR), which views participants, in this case library staff members, as part of the research team. Specifically, this project focuses on knowledge that library staff members use to cope with challenges, provide services, and remain abreast of changes affecting the library and information science profession. The researcher used interviews, review of archival documents, and tours of facilities to gather observation, oral, and trace data. Meetings with staff additionally aided the interpretation of and further informed data gathered.

This paper reports on the initial stage of a three-year research project designed to determine how to design library services for marginalized populations that prefer to interact with information by talking. Given that changes in professional practices tend to occur more frequently in areas that experience turnover of those served, the researcher selected three urban public library systems as research sites because they routinely cope with changing demographics. One year at each site provides time to investigate staff perspectives of services, to study how eligible library users get information, and to design and evaluate the implementation of a service event. The initial stage involved spending time with various library staff at the first site, an urban public library system in a large city in the mid-western United States. A description of data gathered includes results from nine interviews, multiple observations made during two (half week) research trips, and an examination of organizational archival collections.

During the first stage, the researcher interviewed and had subsequent face-to-face and phone-based discussions with staff participants. Observational tours of multiple locations at the study site—six of its over two dozen facilities—also yielded data and helped determine how best to design later stages of the project. Staff participants helped determine aspects of the research design and aid in interpreting data gathered.

Initial data analysis is leading to the suggestion that staff participants manage community services in ways that resemble how they manage library collections. Discussion explains what is meant by community services and explicates how practices observed indicate that a community service can be a type of document. The paper ends with recommendations for professional practical and for future research.