Decisions to delete: subjectivity in information deletion and retention

Macknet, David Taylor (2012) Decisions to delete: subjectivity in information deletion and retention. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
Download (3MB) | Preview
Printed Thesis Information:


This research examines the decision-making process of computer users with reference to deletion and preservation of digital objects. Of specific interest to this research is whether people provide different reasons for deleting or preserving various types of digital object dependant upon whether they are making such decisions at home or at work, whether such decisions are to any extent culturally determined, and whether they consider others in the course of making such decisions.

This study considers the sociological implications of such decisions within organisations, and various psychological errors to be expected when such decisions are made. It analyses the reasons given for these decisions, within the contexts of home and work computing. It quantifies the frequency with which these activities are undertaken, the locations in which such objects are stored, and what aids the user in making such decisions.

This research concludes that, while computer users generally desire their digital objects to be organised, they are not provided with adequate support from their computer systems in the decision to delete or preserve digital objects. It also concludes that such decisions are made without taking advantage of metadata, and these decisions are made for the same reasons both at home and at work: there is no discernible difference between the two contexts in terms of reasons given for such decisions. This study finds no correlation between subjects' culture and reasons given for deletion / preservation decisions, nor does it find any correlation between age and such reasons. This study further finds that users are generally averse to conforming to records management policies within the organisation.

For archivists and records managers, this research will be of particular interest in its consideration of the usage of and attitudes towards records management systems. Specifically, in organisations possessing formal records management systems, this research investigates the frequency with which individuals violate records management procedures and why they consider such violations to be necessary or desirable. This research also argues towards a more proceduralised decision-making process on the part of the ordinary user and a deeper integration between records management systems and computer operating systems.

Designers of formal information systems should consider this research for its implications regarding the way in which decisions are affected by the context in which those decisions are made. Information systems design may be best suited to understanding---and ameliorating---certain types of cognitive error such that users are enabled to make better deletion and preservation decisions. User interface designers are uniquely positioned to address certain cognitive errors simply by changing how information is presented; this research provides insight into just what those errors are and offers suggestions towards addressing them.

For sociologists concerned with institutional memory, this research should be of interest because the deletion and preservation decisions of members of an organisation are those which shape the collection of digital artefacts available for study. Understanding the reasons for these decisions is likely to inform what interpretations can be drawn from the study of such collections. Also of interest to sociologists will be the variety of reasons given for deletion or preservation, as those reasons and decisions are what shape, to some extent, institutional memory.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Records, Archives, Deletion, Retention, Destruction, Cognitive Psychology, Cognitive Error, Human Computer Interaction, Systems Design
Subjects: Z Bibliography. Library Science. Information Resources > Z665 Library Science. Information Science
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA76 Computer software
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > Information Studies
Supervisor's Name: Anderson, Dr. Ian G. and Tough, Mr. Alistair
Date of Award: 2012
Depositing User: Mr David Taylor Macknet
Unique ID: glathesis:2012-3286
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 04 Apr 2012
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 14:05

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year