Deborah Turner, PhD


I study information behavior: the practices used by people who move across contexts over time, like when relocating or moving from a dysfunctional to a functional lifestyle. To date, I’ve studied the information practices of those moving from entry level to leadership positions, who rely heavily on oral information.

In fact, robust (oral) information systems that do not rely on technology persist and dominate even after technology-based resources are introduced. Having studied oral information in oral cultures, oral tradition, and contemporary organizations in the United States and Finland and having introduced the concept of an oral document, I can distinguish between important and trivial utterances. While acknowledging that not everything needs to be digitized, my research seeks to inform the design of and to ensure success when investing in technological resources.

Learn more about my research:


Selected Research Projects

  • The oral present, urban library services, and the underserved

    The Oral Present is a three-year early-career research project funded by the Laura Bush 21st-Century Librarian (LB21) Program at the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS; RE-07-14-0051). I investigate ways to meet the information needs of people who are underserved, namely the urban poor, who face issues that go unaddressed in the delivery of many digitized library services. My project specifically helps library and information science professionals and researchers understand how oral information services may be designed, organized, and managed. Research sites for Turner's project include the Cleveland Public Library, Free Library of Philadelphia, and Seattle Public Library systems.

  • Health care information in an oral culture: Uganda

    This three-year collaboration, involving Drexel College of Medicine in Philadelphia and Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, and funded by Rotary International, brings medical professionals, health care workers, and information science researchers together to study and improve health care education and infrastructure. My role relates to the behavior and information habits of women in oral cultures as they access and process information and educational materials about health, particularly from community libraries.

  • CHOICES Uganda

    CHOICES Uganda is an international, multidisciplinary effort to improve maternal and child health in Uganda by ensuring access to needed information. Professionals and researchers in health sciences, library and information science, and the performing arts collaborate with community members and organizations—in Uganda and in the United States—to create plays that help disseminate health information. The project involves creating the plays and measuring their impact.

  • The evolution of orality

    In some cultures and situations, oral information continues to be preferred and to dominate. For example, after a child of immigrants reads some formal document, her parents may turn to her expectantly, waiting for her to translate orally the information it contains into a language they can understand. The same dynamic can occur with semiliterate adults. Other situations in which this may occur involve a crisis, an emergency, national security, domestic safety, or just a lack of time. Finally, what we say and how we say it can be impacted by the introduction of a new technology, like a system of writing. What these situations seem to have in common is the use of oral information in ways informed by the context in which they are used.

    Through an understanding that acknowledges that orality evolves over time, from the first writing systems to the printing press to the Internet, my research delves into new kinds of orality to understand how people who prefer oral information evaluate, parse, and access information.

  • Oral information and video blogging

    My study of video blogging, or “vlogging,” delved into questions about the nature of oral documents and social media. Studying non-traditional, oral documents can inform efforts to extend traditional library and information science practices of description, storage, and retrieval to artefacts made available through emerging media. This study extends the method used to identify a document by determining whether an online artefact incorporates one or more properties of documents, to identify how a document can incorporate a dialogue.

  • Small High School Libraries Project

    I worked as a research assistant under Michael Eisenberg and others on this now-completed longitudinal study that examined the impact of secondary school reform on school media centers.


Selected Research Talks

  • Turner, D. (2015, March 27). “Can't you just tell me what to type?”: Urban Libraries Respond. Center for Research and Development of Digital Libraries (CRADLE) talk. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Read abstract.
  • Turner, D. (2012, April). Assessment and library leaders. Living the Future conference. University of Arizona, Tucson.
  • Lynch, B, Strong, G., Turner, D., & De Lond, K. (2012, April). Future of the profession: skills, education, and structure of the profession. Living the Future 8 conference. University of Arizona, Tucson.
  • Turner, D. (2011, September). Oral documents in concept and in situ (research seminar talk, invited). Presented at the Division of ALM and Book History, Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences. Lund University, Sweden.
  • Turner, D. (2011, September). Orality and context (lecture, invited). Presented at the Division of ALM and Book History, Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences. Lund University, Sweden.
  • Turner, D. (2010, November). Research & teaching talk. The iSchool, Drexel University.
  • Turner, D. (2009, April). Oral documents: the concept. University of Tampere, Finland.
  • Turner, D. (2009, March). The concept of an oral document. University of Oulu, Finland
  • Turner, D. (2008, November). Oral information interactions. Abö Akademe, Turku, Finland.
  • Turner, D. (2009, November). Orally based information. University of Tampere, Finland.
  • Turner, D. (2007, April). Speaking seriously: deciphering texts as documented in orality. Graduate Diversity Seminar Research Series. Graduate Opportunities & Minority Achievement Program. University of Washington, Seattle.

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.

Website Design & Development by Canard Media Group

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.