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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2002

Book Reviews

Distributed Work

Allison V. Level
Reference Librarian
Colorado State University

Hinds, Pamela J. and Sara Kiesler. Distributed Work. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002. ISBN 0-262-08305-1. $50.00.

This book is a well-organized collection of eighteen chapters on the impact and nature of distributed work. The study of distributed work includes understanding the geographic distribution of work, challenges to the division of labor and managing a dispersed workforce, and research or scientific collaboration over distances. It is based on papers presented at an August 2000 conference on the group and organizational aspects of distributed work. The editors are Pamela J. Hinds, Assistant Professor of Management, Science and Engineering at Stanford University and Sara Kiesler Professor of Human Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University. On first look, this 475-page book could be a bit daunting. Who has time to read this much and why would you want to? The answer in a nutshell--engaging topics, great writing, superior editing, and all from a variety of research and organizational perspectives. The preface gives the reader an understanding of the environment surrounding distributed work. The editors discuss a group of scientists and engineers working together since 1994 on, "a research agenda that would encourage appropriate technological support for distributed work in teams and better understanding of the processes of distributed work. In the ensuing years, technological and economic change, as well as new studies of distributed work, suggested that distributed work is even more varied and complex than was envisioned five years ago." The rest of the book is organized into five sections: History of Distributed Work, Lessons from Collocated Work, Group Process in Distributed Work, Enabling Distributed Work, and Distributed Scientific Collaborations. As with any edited volume with a mixture of authors, you lose the flow that a book by one or two authors offers. In this case however, excellent individual chapters by authors with varied backgrounds, research subject interests, and talents reward the reader instead.

With the fax machine, Internet, and cell phones one could guess that distributed work is a phenomena of recent times. As this book aptly discusses, this is not the case. The book opens with two chapters on the historical aspects of work and they give some background and context for issues that have been a part of distributed work over the years. Chapter two, "Distributed Work over the Centuries: Trust and Control in the Hudson's Bay Company, 1670-1826" is a marvelous chapter that includes insight on company history, organizational culture, trust, and control of this enduring company.

The sections on lessons from collocated work, group process, and enabling distributed work offer insights into everything from fuzzy teams, time effects in computer-mediated groups, attribution in distributed work groups, and conflict and coordination of groups. Just because people are distributed doesn't mean that face-to-face communication is lost or unimportant. Bonnie A. Nardi, (Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart with Vicki O'Day) and Steve Whittaker provide excellent examples of the importance of sharing experiences in a common space.

The Distributed Scientific Collaboration section is a great read for any science and technology librarian. It features information on what makes collaborations across a distance succeed and presents success measures and frustrations of collaboration. Throughout the book, some chapters have detailed endnotes and all have good references. The index is thorough and there is at least a paragraph summary about each of the contributors. This book would be a welcome addition for academic libraries, public libraries with specialized business collections, or researchers looking for recent discussions on geographic distribution of work, workplace issues, communication in management, and teamwork.

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