Julian Warner


  • Room 02.017 - Riddel Hall Block 3

    United Kingdom

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Information systems for managers Information retrieval Intellectual property Labour in information systems

1988 …2020

Research activity per year

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Office 02.17 School of Management

Office hours 12noon-2pm Wednesday


Information systems for managers

Research Statement


I was appointed in 1984 as a faculty member in library and information studies, from a predominantly scholarly, rather than professional, background.  Information science has accordingly been understood as a scholarly discipline in concerned with information and not as a technical sub-discipline of library and information science. 

After some initial publication in librarianship, a turn was made towards information science, in line with institutional movement towards information studies.  I also drew on underlying competencies in logic, mathematics, and computation, adding these to the scholarly background in the humanities.

Subsequent research has been in accord with institutional moves, specifically the absorption of information studies within management.  I have developed and implemented a research and a publication strategy.

 Research and publication strategy

The research strategy is to study of information topics of wide public interest, to fit in with the management context.  A humanistic and historically informed perspective on information and computational developments has been developed, from the late 1980s.

A corresponding publication strategy involves publishing on such topics within the disciplinary community of information science, as conference presentations and journal articles.  Work is then synthesized into monographs, with the addition of significant further material, as monographic publications with major scholarly publishers, to diffuse themes beyond information science.

Research themes and publications anticipated the call by Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Google to bring art and science back together for understanding and progressing computational technologies (Mac Taggart lecture, Edinburgh, August 2011), by some twenty years.

Themes developed

The first monograph published, From Writing to Computers (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), embodied thought crystallized as a response to the call in the 1988 Panizzi lectures by D. F McKenzie, to establish a ‘unifying, intellectual principle’ which would connect computing to books.  The reception of the work testified to originality and interest of its themes and to the clarity, intelligibility, accuracy, and comprehensiveness of the account given of the theory of computability.

Humanistic perspectives and understanding of computation were further synthesized in the late 1990s.  In particular, a distinction between semantic and syntactic mental labor was formulated and then fully published in 2005.  The distinction was received as fundamentally significant for information science and has also been adopted by other disciplines. 

The distinction has since been dialectically developed by empirical application to distinct subject areas, by two monographs.  Human Information Retrieval (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010) made analytic use of the distinction and has been received as transformative for the study of information retrieval.  Its perspective on information retrieval has since been further refined and simplified.  Copyright, Data and Creativity in the Digital Age: A Journey through Feist (London and New York: Routledge, 2020) uses the distinction as the implicit basis for a study of a highly significant copyright judgment of the Supreme Court of the United States, which denied property to collections of data which did not have a minimal degree of creativity.  The interaction of theory and practice has yielded significant refinement of the distinction of semantic from syntactic labor, including mapping to the legally significant distinction between intellectual and clerical labor.

Since 2000, theoretical distinctions have also been tested by interaction with computer science and management students.  Students conduct independent empirical studies populating theoretical categories with their own examples for invention, innovation, and diffusion for information technologies, the mechanization of mental tabor, and for information retrieval.  Concepts developed have not broken down into interaction with c.2000 students, confirming their robustness.  Their conciseness, intelligibility, and potential for broad application has also been revealed.  In addition, students have commented on their integrative effect in linking computer science and management together.

Research themes have then been extensively empirically tested and dialogically proven.  The dangers of solipsism, which might have resulted from independent development of theoretical categories, have been avoided.  Themes have been hammered out and refined.

Publication plans

The adoption of the distinction of semantic from syntactic labor and its further development make the time ripe for further dissemination, by book publication to reach management and wider public discourse, bypassing the journal literature of information science.

Accordingly, a book, Semantic and Syntactic Labor,is being developed.  A manuscript has been drafted and submission of a proposal requested by Routledge and MIT Press.  Submission of the work in 2021 and publication in 2022 is planned. 

Further books exploring themes connected with semantic and syntactic labor are under development.  A similar mode of publication is conceived.

Recent and current developments in information and communications technology are understood as a revolution in the mechanization of mental labor, rather than as inaugurating an information society.  A book, The Revolution in the Mechanization of Mental Labor, is planned for publication in 2023.

The idea of revolution implies an irreversible tide, which we can understand more fully and then navigate, but cannot reverse.  The question with regard to the adoption of successful information technology systems then becomes when not if.  A book, Invention, Innovation, and Diffusion for Information Technology, which applies a framework developed in economics for technological innovation, but not yet fully brought to information and communication technologies, is planned for publication in 2023.

The further development of theory for information retrieval enables a further book, A Final Theory of Information Retrieval, intended for publication in 2024.

All themes have been extensively tested in cooperation with students.


A research and publication strategy has then been cumulatively developed since the late 1980s.  Work has been well received by information science and a number of other disciplines. Further publication, deliberately for dissemination, should ensure that themes reaches ordinary discourse.


1984      MA Librarianship, University of Sheffield. 1984.

1984      D.Phil. in the Faculty of English Language and Literature, Oxford University.

1979      MA 20th century English and American literature, University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

1977      BA Honours in English language and literature, First class, University of Newcastle upon Tyne.



1984-                   Faculty member, The Queen’s University of Belfast

2009-                   Management Subject Group, Queen’s Management School.

2001-2009          Management Information Systems Division, School of Management.

1999-2001          Management Information Systems Division, School of Management and Economics.

1993-1999          Management Information Systems Division, School of Management.

1989-1993          Information Systems Division, School of Finance and Information.

1984-1989          Department of Library and Information Studies.


Jun-Aug 2006     Visiting Scholar, School of Library and Information Science, Indiana University. Teaching L565 Computer Mediated Communication.

Feb-Jun 2005     Visiting Scholar, Research Centre for Social Sciences, University of Edinburgh.  Researching a labor theoretic approach to information retrieval and the semantics of full text indexing.

Feb-Sept 2000   Visiting Scholar, Graduate School of Library and Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Developing perspectives on information technology.

1991-1992          Visiting Associate, School of Library and Information Studies, University of California at Berkeley.  Writing a historical study of writing and computing.


 1982-1983          Trainee, The Library, University of York.

1973-1974          Research Assistant, United Glass Research and Development, St. Albans.



Teaching is strongly research informed and has been evaluated well by students.  Courses bringing humanities and social science perspectives to information issues, for students taking management and computer science, have been progressively developed.

I am accustomed to teaching students majoring in Management, Business Information Technology, Business Economics, and Economics.  The instructional modules developed, since 2000, are innovative and are increasingly represented in journal and monographic publications. 

Specific modules taught, with student evaluative comments for more recent modules, include the following.

 2010-  Information Systems in Organizations), BSc Business Information Technology, Level 3.

  • A tremendous educational experience.
  • Integrates management and computer science.
  • Tutorial tasks help with assignments and meetings to discuss assignments are very helpful.
  • Clearly enthusiastic about his work and thoroughly enjoys teaching it.
  • The relevant examples and the relation to the real world were helpful.
  • He wanted to hear our views and encouraged discussions.

2010-  Information Policy, BSc Business Information Technology, Level 3.

  • The module was delivered with great passion.
  • Good interactive tutorials.
  • Opportunity to review assignments with lecturer.
  • Liked the module, really well taught.
  • Actively helped students and explained things extremely well during both lectures and tutorials.
  • One of the best, if not the best, module and lecturer during my time here.
  • The lecture notes were very informative and the lectures very helpful.
  • Gives a great insight into the foundations of information policy.

2000-  Dissertation supervision for MSc Management, MSc Marketing, MSc Human Resource Management, MSc Sustainability.

2017   Information Systems, BA Business and Management Studies, part-time.

  • Very engaging, enjoyable classes, gets students involved.
  • Weekly class tasks really helped.

2016  Managing Activities 2, BA Business and Management Studies, part-time.

  • The lecturer was well informed, well read, and interesting. Thanks.

2014-2015  Managing Information and Technology, Executive MBA.

  • The knowledge gap within the ... business for the mechanization of semantic to syntactic labour has now been acknowledged and will be considered at the start of future kaizen [development] activity, drawing upon the learnings made in the module. 

2014-2015  Organisation Design and Development (Information Systems component), MSc HRM.

2008-2010  Management Information Systems, BSc Business Information Technology and BSc Business Management, Level 1.

  • Insight into information systems.
  • Learning the different aspects of management information systems.
  • It highlights areas that we think we understand, but examines them closely and can actually show many other meanings to the most simple of areas associated with information in business.
  • Clear what we were studying, good real life examples.

2001-2008 Communicating Electronically, BSc Management Information Systems, Level 2.

  • It provided me with a lot of insight into information retrieval, electronic, written and oral communication, and the theory behind the transmission of messages and information.
  • Most interesting module taken.

2000-2008   Information Policy, BSc Management Information Systems, Level 3.

1998-2001   Modelling the diffusion of specialized knowledge, MSc Science Communication.

1993-2000   Understanding Information, BSc Information Management, Level 3.

1989-2000   Information Resources, MSc in Information Management.

1989-1993   Inforrmation Sources, BSc Information Management, Level 3.

1984-1989   Bibliography and Reference Work, Diploma in Librarianship.

1984-1989   Bibliography and Reference Work, Bachelor of Library Studies.

1984-1989   Subject Area Studies, Diploma in Librarianship.

1984-1989   Subject Area Studies, Bachelor of Library Studies, Level 3.



Impact of publications

 Influence on government policies

 Journal articles have been cited in policy discussions in the United States and the United Kingdom.


The book and articles on the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Feist v. Rural (1991) have the potential to be significant for information policy, at a global level, as they give a simple, compelling, and practically implementable interpretation of a highly significant copyright judgment. 

Some potential impact on policy is already discernible.

Perhaps more useful to the American western classical music community may be an understanding of what does not constitute creative choice in a court of law. In his analysis of Feist, Warner concludes that ‘[t]he absence of creativity is manifested in a routine selection, coordination, and arrangement produced by an automatic mechanical procedure.’ If this understanding of the Feist ruling were to become legal trend in the United States, the filling in of missing bass figures would be less likely to qualify as creative work in an American court. Y. H. Sim. Copyrighting critical editions: the law versus the musical public. M.A. in Music History: University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2011, pp.46-47.

Previous work on the relation of intellectual property to underlying economic conditions (Warner, 1999, Information society or cash nexus? A study of the United States as a copyright haven. Journal of the American Society for Information Science. 50, 5, 1999, 461-470) has also influenced government policy discussions.

The change over time in U.S. attitudes toward the IP laws of other countries is widely ascribed to the change in U.S. status in the 20th century to a major producer of IP content (Warner, 1999). Committee on Intellectual Property Rights and the Emerging Information Infrastructure. The Digital Dilemma: Intellectual Property in the Information Age. National Academy Press: Washington, D.C., 2000.

Research evaluation

A critique of the application of citation data to research evaluation (Warner, 2000, A critical review of the application of citation studies to the Research Assessment Exercises. Journal of Information Science.26, 6, 2000, pp.453-460) concluded that, ‘citation analysis can … be employed as one element used to inform judgment of research quality, with judgment underdetermined by any single element.’ (p.457). 

The conclusion uniquely anticipated the central recommendation of the subsequent official review of research assessment: ‘Any system of research assessment designed to identify the best research must be based upon the judgement of experts, who may, if they choose, employ performance indicators to inform their judgement.’ Review of Research Assessment. Report by Sir Gareth Roberts to the UK funding bodies. Issued for consultation May 2003. 

The perspective has been increasingly embodied in subsequent research evaluation practice.  The conclusion of the article was cited in a HEFCE report: ‘Although peer judgments are commonly used in such cases, quantitative indicators may sometimes aid the decision making: ‘to inform, but not to determine, judgments of research quality’ (Warner, 2000, p. 453). Wouters, P. et al. (2015). The Metric Tide: Literature Review (Supplementary Report I to the Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment and Management). HEFCE. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.5066.3520.

Scholarly impact

Labor in information systems

A distinction of semantic from syntactic mental labor was published in 2005 and immediately recognized as significant within information science.  It has since been adopted as a fundamental explanatory construct in marketing, business studies, management information systems, business studies, and marketing.  The distinction has also reached linguistics.

Information science

The standard use of ARIST [Annual Review of Information Science and Technology], keeping up with one’s specialty, is occasionally transcended by a chapter so illuminating that anyone could benefit by reading it.  …  In volume 39, Julian Warner’s analysis of information systems in terms of labour notes that technology is the product of the ‘dead labor’ of inventors and machine makers. He also makes and elaborates a distinction between semantic labor (mainly concerned with meaning) and syntactic labour (mainly procedures, often algorithmic and more easily delegated to machines).  It is not clear where this analysis will lead, but it illuminates the whole field in a new way. M. Buckland. Review of Annual Review of Information Science and Technology. Journal of Documentation. 62, 1, 2006, pp.154-156 (pp.155-156).

Management information systems

A. Greenhill, G. Fletcher. Laboring online: are there ‘new’ labor processes within virtual game worlds? Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 14, 11, 2013, pp.672-693, adopts the distinction of semantic from syntactic labor, as its major theoretical basis. 

Business studies

The distinction is cited in, A. Heinze. Crowd outsourcing. Ignited: the future issue (Salford Business School). 2, 2015, pp.6-7 (p.6).


The distinction between syntactic and semantic labor offers a clear explanation as to why and when this contribution [from direct human labour in business organizations] will be required. G. Fletcher and A. Christov. Future users, content and marketing. In A. Heinze, G. Fletcher, T. Rashid, and A. Cruz editors. Digital and Social Media Marketing: A Results-driven Approach. London: Routledge, 2017. pp.301-316 (p.315).


The agentive aspect of communication, even that involving supposed fixed codes in the sphere of language, is what is emphasized in Warner’s idea of human semantic labour …  In his persuasive argument, Warner sees the possibility of a humanistic reassertion of semantic autonomy in the face of syntactic sovereignty. P. Cobley. Discussion: integrationism, anti-humanism and the suprasubjective. In A. Pablé editor. Critical Humanist Perspectives. The Integrational Turn in Philosophy of Language and Communication. London and New York: Routledge, 2017, pp.267-284 (p.270).

 Information retrieval

 Human Information Retrieval (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010) was well reviewed and continues to be received as transformative for information retrieval research.


Julian Warner makes a hitting yet poignant and thought-provoking remark right at the onset of his book … academics and other professionals have given more attention to the practical understanding of information retrieval than to a full theoretical account.  … The book is straightforward … simple and illustrative. … the book combines Warner’s excellent grasp of the information technology and web search along with his ability to humanise and personalise web content.  Warner emphasises that information is not just about information technology and indexing and computation but also about people, mental labour and literature. A. Venkatraman.  Information World Review. 20 Apr 2010.

This lucid book … This is a difficult but well written and extremely relevant book, which contains a thorough academic treatment of HIR [human information retrieval] from the perspective of a labor theoretic approach.  There are many historical analogies used within the text, which help to explain the origins of the study of human information retrieval.  It manages to bridge the gap between practical and theoretical aspects of HIR in a coherent and meaningful fashion. …  Researchers in HIR will find this an invaluable and thought provoking resource. Advanced undergraduate students and postgraduate students pursuing modules or a course in information resources management will also find much of relevance to their study. S. Fitz-Gerald. International Journal of Information Management. 30, 2, 2010, pp.180-181.

This book … presents a very clear theoretical approach to the subject … The high level abstractions and theory are exemplified by actual examples from the library and information practice and internet, mostly information retrieval applications for full-text.  This closeness to the real world and examples taken not only from the modern information retrieval systems but also from earlier means of accessing information stored in various ways (including human brain) is an exceptionally attractive feature of the proposed approach. …  I would recommend the book to be acquired by all information science departments as a good theoretical introduction, not only to information retrieval as such, but also as a more general approach to an explanation of one of the most significant components of several information professions: description and search labour.  E. Maceviciute. Information Research. 15(3), 2010, review no. R383, 2010.

The approach is marvellously materialist. ...  [the book] offers examples which illustrate searching on words and phrases using the theoretical model – and what examples!  The use of an example drawn from ‘Horse Feathers’ as illustration is to be highly commended!  ...  This is an extremely interesting book. Truly scholarly and theoretical, it draws from a range of disciplines, including information science, philosophy, linguistics and communication science. Warner draws all these seemingly disparate strands into an elegant and coherent whole, demonstrating that there are similarities, analogies, things to be learned from delving wide. There are many other treasures in this book, which is a valuable theoretical contribution to the literature of information retrieval. P. Rafferty. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science. 43, 2011, pp.60-61.

Human Information Retrieval presents its readers with an interesting perspective on IR that well repays study.  ...  the labor-theoretic approach ... is structurally elegant and has the potential to be a very useful model for ‘macroscopic’ thinking about the design and evaluation of IR systems. ... a genuinely illuminating account of IR as a human phenomenon. T. M. Dousa. College & Research Libraries. 71, 5, 2010, pp.496-498.

this theoretical, scholarly, and inspiring work that balances practical and theoretical aspects of human IR [information retrieval] ... its depth, value, and originality should not be neglected ... a useful contribution to the IR literature. A. Isfandyari-Moghaddam. Library Resources & Technical Services. 56, 2012, p.215.

Further influence

Warner's (2010) differentiation between IR [information retrieval] as query transformation versus KO [knowledge organization] as providing ‘selection power’ seems important and is taken as the point of departure … in both this and a following article. … Warner's two approaches (query transformation and selection power) may be useful as fundamental precepts on which to base an understanding of the role of KO in the electronic world … the perspective provided by Warner (2010) could be the way out of the crisis. B. Hjørland. Classical databases and knowledge organization: a case for Boolean retrieval and human decision-making during searches. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. 66, 2015, pp.1559-2015 (pp.1561, 1562, 1570). 

Warner’s language-informed account of ‘human information retrieval’ is an innovative approach.  As well as being a novel application of a structural linguistic concept to current information scientific problems it enables one to question the traditional assumptions of the IR community, for example the dogma of the ‘query transformation’ (Warner, 2010, p. 3) … Warner has discovered new ways of applying linguistic concepts and language-related analogies and thus opened up new approaches to IR [information retrieval] research. V. Engerer. Exploring interdisciplinary relationships between linguistics and information retrieval from the 1960s to today. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. 68, 2017, pp.660–680. 

Full-text searching is now ubiquitous and while this has reduced the salience of the conflict between controlled and uncontrolled vocabulary and changed the focus of the debate, it has given rise to new questions and problems (Warner, 2007; Warner, 2010). V. Engerer. Control and syntagmatization: Vocabulary requirements in information retrieval thesauri and natural language lexicons. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 68, 2017, pp.1480–1490. doi:10.1002/asi.23783. 

Importantly, as Warner points out, this computer science paradigm in information retrieval can be juxtaposed to an alternative understanding of information retrieval in librarianship whose history is much longer, yet which today has become far less influential than the positivist view of algorithmic search. N. Kerssens. When search engines stopped being human: menu interfaces and the rise of the ideological nature of algorithmic search, Internet Histories. 2017. At http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/24701475.2017.1337666 (p.2).

Historical perspectives on information technologies

The historical perspective on information technologies is represented by a number of publications, which continue to be cited. 

Humanizing Information Technology. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004. 

Julian Warner, whose often unique approach to issues involving information science is colored by the palette of the field of economics … presents eight insightful essays providing a humanistic, essentially Marxian perspective on today’s information technology … the time taken for careful review and examination of these essays will be rewarded with some exceptional insights. V. L. Gregory. Library Resources and Technical Services. 49, 1, 2005, pp.59-60. 

Information and redundancy in the legend of Theseus. Journal of Documentation. 59, 5, 2003, pp.540-557.

Warner’s (2003) eccentric but inventive article juxtaposed the Greek legend of Theseus (an ancient, mythical hero), and the modem information theory by Shannon and Weaver. … Despite the unlikely combination, a ‘high degree of correspondence between the two independent formulations’ was detected. J. Kari and J. Hartel. Information and higher things in life: addressing the pleasurable and the profound in information science. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. 58, 2007, pp.1131-1147.

Information, Knowledge, Text. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2001. 168p.

Warner has written a very thoughtful and well-informed book that definitely deserves attention. His historical exposition of writing and the computer, and the connection between these, as information technologies that shape human activities is enlightening. Warner has an ability to show that the most congealed tools for communication have a history that is worth exploring, and that this can shed light on some common understandings of information technology. Thus, Warner succeeds in offering a reflexive response to developments in information technology. J. Andersen. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. 53, 8, pp.690-691.

Few authors are as able or as eager to draw on the classics of literature, philosophy, theology, and science as Warner does here, refreshingly and entertainingly. …  [the] detailed historical account, culminating in an analysis of recent legal classifications of computer programs as literary works, is a tour de force … a timely compilation of the work of one of the field’s more interesting theorists. J. Furner. The Library Quarterly.  72, 4, 2002, pp.507-509.

His approach is thorough, academic, credible … the chapters do provide a coherent collection.  Students of information science should be enlightened and intrigued. T. Schneiter. College and Research Libraries.  64, 2, 2003, pp.168-169.

From Writing to Computers. London and New York: Routledge, 1994. xi, 159p.

Julian Warner eloquently encapsulates the aim of this book in his concluding chapter when he states ‘This book has been concerned with relating the new to the more familiar, particularly with connecting computers to documents.’  ...  Realizing the possible complexity of the subject he is tackling, Warner is at pains constantly to introduce and summarize his materials.  The overall effect is of a successful steering through a possible minefield of unexplained theories and abstract hypotheses.  ... Warner’s explanations are sound and can be readily understood.  …  On the whole, an extremely useful and thought-provoking book. S. Lee. Computers & Texts. 8, December 1994, p.16.

An overarching consideration of the relation between writing and computers in a synthesis which is both intellectually stimulating and original.  …  An excellent addition to any collection on computing, communication, library or information studies, and a recommended read for anyone with even the most general interest in semiotics, computing, writing or intelligence. D. Ellis. Program. 29, 1, 1995, pp.104-105. 

Warner has written a concise, densely written, thought-provoking study of the relationship between writing and computers.  ...  the broad and clear analysis of writing and language, and of automata theory, [and] formal logic … is well worth reading. H.D. Warner. Choice. 32, 6, February 1995, p.968.

this intriguing book by Julian Warner ... what is presented here provides an interestingly offbeat view of one aspect of computing. P. Willett. Computer Journal. 39, 3, 1996, p.253.

Impact as a whole

 Articles and books are being incorporated, increasingly rapidly, into university reading lists.


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