November 8, 2011 – One of the sessions I attended while at the 2010 meeting of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T) in Pittsburgh recently was presented by Michael Buckland, Fidelia Ibekwe-SanJuan, and Kiersten Latham. This interesting session was actually three coordinated presentations that individually and together questioned the accepted view of information science as an emerging, scientific discipline closely tied with information technology and, mainly, textual data.

The development of information science in France has been radically different from the US experience: Information science arose in the humanities, has been largely subsumed under communication studies, and distanced from information technology. Interestingly, the French refer to information science in the plural.

Michael Buckland, a full professor of information science at the University of California, Berkeley, posed several more questions to the discussion: Is it information and communication science? Is it information and technology? Is it information technology? It seems that many of the communication scholars have a wait and see approach to this.

Kiersten Latham approached the topic from a museum studies background. Feeling the scope and focus has been too narrow, she proposes there are other ways that information science is interpreted. Spiritual, aesthetic, emotional – people’s ideas are often influenced by art. Can information science cope with issues of museum presentation and the cognitive and aesthetic experiences of museum visitors?

What kind of science could information science be? Mike Buckland pointed out that in 1948 this society changed its name to the American Society for Information Science (ASIS) from the American Society for Documentation. Is this representative of the scientific turn? And will a social science turn be next?  It is now called the American Society for Information Science and Technology. Perhaps that will be the direction.

Being scientific involved rebuilding models, being scholarly requires affirmative search for contrary evidence for one’s best ideas, and being critical means questioning assumptions and methods. Documents are pervasive, knowledge is second hand; both are increasingly indispensable for daily life.

Information retrieval is dependent on relevance. However, relevance isn’t tangible. It is an ad hoc imagining of relations. Information science, on the other hand, is humanlike and able to know the social influence for our life style. Information science is concerned with cultural engagement.

So we all know what we are studying. What should it be called? We need definition of the field and the name, but will we ever agree?

Marjorie M.K. Hlava
President and Chairman
Access Innovations / Data Harmony