Bonnie Nardi

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Bonnie Nardi
OccupationProfessor, anthropologist
EmployerUniversity of California, Irvine
Known forHuman–computer interaction

Bonnie Nardi is a professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine, where she leads the TechDec research lab in the areas of Human-Computer Interaction and computer-supported cooperative work. She is well known for her work on activity theory. She was elected to the ACM CHI academy in 2013.[1]


Prior to teaching at the University of California, Nardi worked at AT&T Labs, Agilent, Hewlett-Packard and Apple labs. She is among anthropologists who have been employed by high-tech companies to examine consumers' behavior in their homes and offices.[2]

Nardi collaborated with Victor Kaptelinin to write Acting with Technology: Activity Theory and Interaction Design (2009) and Activity Theory in HCI: Fundamentals and Reflections (2012) . These works discuss Activity Theory and offer a basis for understanding our relationship with technology.


Her interests are in the areas of Human-Computer Interaction, Computer supported cooperative work, more specifically in activity theory, computer-mediated communication, and interaction design. Prof. Nardi has researched CSCW applications and blogging, and has more recently pioneered the study of World of Warcraft in HCI. She has studied the use of technology in offices, hospitals, schools, libraries and laboratories. [2]

She is widely known among librarians - especially research, reference and digital librarians - for Chapter 7 of Information Ecologies, which focused on librarians as keystone species in information ecologies. Nardi's book inspired the title of a UK conference Information Ecologies: the impact of new information 'species' [3] hosted, inter alia, by the UK Office of Library Networking, now known by its acronym UKOLN, and led to a keynote address by Nardi at a 1998 Library of Congress Institute on Reference Service in a Digital Age.[4] She had written Information Ecologies while a researcher at ATT Labs Research.

Nardi's self-described theoretical orientation is "activity theory" - aka Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) -, a philosophical framework developed by the Russian psychologists Vygotsky, Luria, Leont'ev, and their students. "My interests are user interface design, collaborative work, computer-mediated communication, and theoretical approaches to technology design and evaluation." She is currently conducting an ethnographic study of World of Warcraft. According to Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn's Wastebook 2010, Nardi received a $100,000 grant to "analyze and understand the ways in which players of World of Warcraft, a popular multiplayer game, engage in creative collaboration". In Coburn's list of 100 supposedly-wasteful federal spending projects, Nardi's project turned in at number 6, with Coburn's report saying "Most people have to work for a living, others get to play video games.".[5][6] World of Warcraft is a popular game made by the large Irvine-based Blizzard Entertainment, local to UC Irvine.


Nardi received her undergraduate degree from University of California at Berkeley and her PhD. from the School of Social Sciences at University of California, Irvine. Nardi also spent a year in Western Samoa doing postdoctoral research.

Nardi and library science[edit]

In her book Information Ecologies (Nardi & O'Day 1999) Nardi passionately argues that “Human expertise, judgment and creativity can be supported, but not replaced by computer-based tools.” She argues that we can not, either with technophilia or technophobia, view technological change as “inevitable.” Rather, she challenges us to be critical users of technology who actively engage in conversation on the social impacts of technology. We must then, guided by our moral values influence society's institutions, libraries for example, to adopt responsible technology use.

While all of this has clear application to the Information Science field, one can also look to Bonnie Nardi for her explicit praise of librarians. In a world that is becoming increasingly reliant on technology, her writings clearly spell two words for librarians—job security. As a designer of software herself, she has asked the question, “Could an “intelligent software agent” replace librarians?” and decisively responded, “No.”

In Information Ecologies she clearly labels librarians a “keystone species.” In biological terms, a keystone species is one that is critical to the survival of an ecosystem. To follow the analogy, a librarian is indispensable in the information ecosystem. While information is increasingly available via digital resources, librarians are irreplaceable in their ability to speak the language of search systems and then to retrieve that information.

She further praises librarians beyond their understanding of the necessary language to produce desired search results. Rather, it is the imperceptible skill of a librarian, via the reference interview, to guide the researcher to exactly what they want in. It is through a dialog of clarifying questions and restatement of assumptions that librarian and patron develop a strategy to meet the patron's need and produce the best results.

Through experience, librarians also think of sources patrons may have overlooked, know of additional print/online sources and have the ability to connect patrons with otherwise proprietary information. Unlike computers, librarians develop a rapport with their patrons, enabling them to cater searches to the needs and search style they already expect from the patron. They even have the omniscience to recognize “false drops” and the ingenuity to renegotiate searches with updated/outdated language based on the style of a database. In essence, a librarian is the intercessor “with heart” between the patron and the information—someone who actually cares and wants to help patrons meet their objective.

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Kaptelinin, V.; Nardi, Bonnie (2012). Activity Theory in HCI: Fundamentals and Reflections. San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool. doi:10.2200/S00413ED1V01Y201203HCI013. ISBN 9781608457052.
  • Nardi, Bonnie (2010). My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of the World of Warcraft. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 978-0-472-05098-7.
  • Kaptelinin, V.; Nardi, Bonnie (2006). Acting with Technology: Activity Theory and Interaction Design. Cambridge: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-51331-9.
  • Nardi, Bonnie; O'Day, V. (1999). Information Ecology: Using Technology with Heart. Cambridge: MIT Press. p. 288.
  • Nardi, Bonnie (editor) (1996). Context and Consciousness: Activity Theory and Human-Computer Interaction. Cambridge: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-14058-4.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  • Nardi, Bonnie (1993). A Small Matter of Programming: Perspectives on End User Computing. Cambridge: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-14053-9.
  • Nardi, Bonnie (1993). "Beyond bandwidth: Dimensions of connection in interpersonal interaction". The Journal of Computer-supported Cooperative Work. 14 (2): 91–130. doi:10.1007/s10606-004-8127-9.
  • Nardi, Bonnie; Schiano, Diane; Gumbrecht, Michelle; Swartz, Luke (2004). "Why We Blog". Communications of the ACM. December (12): 41–46. doi:10.1145/1035134.1035163.
  • Nardi, Bonnie; Whittaker, Steve; Schwarz, Heinrich (2002). "NetWORKers and their activity in intensional networks". The Journal of Computer-supported Cooperative Work. 11 (1/2): 205–242. CiteSeerX doi:10.1023/A:1015241914483.
  • Nardi, B., D. Schiano, and M. Gumbrecht (2004). Blogging as social activity, or, Would you let 900 million people read your diary? Proceedings of the Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work. New York: ACM Press, pp. 222–228.
  • Nardi, B., S. Whittaker, and E. Bradner (2000). Interaction and Outeraction: Instant messaging in action. Proceedings Conference on Computer-supported Cooperative Work. New York: ACM Press, pp. 79–88.
  • Gantt, M. and B. Nardi (1992). Gardeners and gurus: Patterns of collaboration among CAD users. Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computer Systems, pp. 107–117.
  • Nardi, B., and J. Miller (1990). An ethnographic study of distributed problem solving in spreadsheet development. Proceedings of the Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, pp. 197–208.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

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