A highlight of the 2012 ASIS&T Annual Meeting, the pre-conference session on the History of ASIS&T and Information Science and Technology Worldwide drew presenters and attendees from around the globe. The day featured papers on four historical themes, starting with the institutional roots of ASIS&T and recognizing decades of research presented in the Annual Review of Information Science and Technology. The evolution of the field was apparent through a review of information revolutions prompted by the printing press, the post-World War II information crisis and the Internet, as well as through presentations on digital curation, ongoing work on relevance, sense-making theory and developments from Croatia to France. Discussion of the historical contexts of technology innovations and impacts considered photographic documentary techniques, binary computing and networking standards. The development of foundational ideas was explored through presentations on pioneering document indexing methods, the semantic challenge of term-oriented retrieval, early European perceptions of classification systems and the French view of communication and information science. Efforts to deepen the historical understanding of information science and technology will continue through oral history interviews, funded research and awards for outstanding papers.

information science history
information science
information technology
innovation
information retrieval
classification
international aspects

Bulletin, February/March 2013


Special Section

The History of ASIS&T and Information Science and Technology

by Karen Miller

The 2012 ASIS&T Annual Meeting pre-conference celebrating the international history of ASIS&T and information science and technology was one of the many projects undertaken by the ASIS&T 75th Anniversary Task Force co-chaired by Toni Carbo and Robert V. Williams. History of ASIS&T, Information Science and Technology Worldwide drew contributors and attendees from several continents. The event also attracted non-ASIS&T members from within and outside the field of information science and technology. Overall, attendance exceeded Toni Carbo’s expectations, who had “hoped that we would attract 60–65 participants.” “I was absolutely delighted when more than 90 people attended the pre-conference,” said Carbo. The diversity of seasoned scholars, new historians, professionals and students attending the event indicates that the “historical turn,” as Rayward names it [1, p. 5], has a dynamic future. 

Of the 27 abstracts received in response to the international call for papers, the comprehensive peer-review process led to the selection of 18 papers from authors in at least 10 countries. The papers reflect the four major historical themes used to organize the conference presentations and publication sections:

  1. Development of ASIS&T
  2. Evolution of the field of information science and technology
  3. Historical contexts of technology innovations and impacts
  4. Development of foundational ideas and theories in information science

Development of ASIS&T 
After brief welcoming remarks from co-chairs Carbo and Williams, Kathryn La Barre introduced and moderated the presentations for the Development of ASIS&T theme. Trudi Bellardo Hahn, Drexel University, and Diane L. Barlow, University of Maryland at College Park, explored the confluence between the National Science Foundation’s Office of Scientific Information (later, Office of Science Information Service) and the American Documentation Institute (ADI) in the 1950s and 1960s. That confluence, largely influenced by Helen Brownson, produced robust information research, the birth of the Annual Review of Information Science and Technology and the emergence of ADI as the American Society for Information Science (ASIS). Linda C. Smith from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign paid tribute to the three editors of the 45 volumes of the Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, placing their work in historical context and defining their legacy as an archive of information science and technology research. Betsy Van der Veer Martens and June Abbas, both from the University of Oklahoma, portrayed the light-hearted side of ASIS&T in their fictional re-mix of ADI/ASIS&T conferences designed by time-traveling members of the Special Interest Group/Digital Libraries (SIG/DL),formed in 2001.

Evolution of the Field of Information Science and Technology
The presentations in the second theme, Evolution of the Field of Information Science and Technology, were moderated by Diane L. Barlow. Richard J. Cox of the University of Pittsburgh applied an archival science perspective to the future of information science and technology historical research in digital archives, suggesting that the digital curation field of study promotes historical research and provides a collaborative venue for librarians, archivists, technologists and information scientists. Tefko Saracevic, Rutgers University, convinced the audience that “no matter what, relevance is here to stay” through a fascinating, often amusing, historical review of relevance studies. Naresh Kumar Agarwal of Simmons College traced the development of Brenda Dervin’s Sense-Making methodology by illuminating the theories and philosophies that influenced Dervin and highlighting the “faulty assumptions” of information system stereotypes that she overcame during the development process. The historical origins and development of academic and research fields in Croatian information sciences were revealed by Franjo Pehar and Tatjana Aparac-Jelušić from the University of Zadar. The final presenter in this group, Fidelia Ibekwe-SanJuan from Jean Moulin University in Lyon, presented information science developments in France since World War II, describing the dwindling information science community within the broader information-communication sciences field and pondering whether there can be a more robust future for information science in France.

A highlight of the day was the keynote speech delivered by W. Boyd Rayward, professor emeritus in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois. Rayward took the audience through an historical review of three information orders or revolutions: the 500-year print revolution begun with Gutenberg’s press, the information crisis occurring after World War II and the information revolution launched by the Internet. Throughout, Rayward demonstrated the interconnectedness of each information order, stressing that each order built “on what went before” by reconfiguring “underlying . . . functions, systems and structures” [2, Slide 4]. Rayward’s message for future information science and technology historians is to explore interconnectedness, whether through broader historical analysis of information and society, inclusive applications of inter-disciplinary methodologies or collaboration with other historical disciplines. Led by the “convergence of diverse historical approaches to understanding how societies are constituted, sustained, reproduced and changed in part by information and the infrastructures that emerge to manage information access and use” [2, Slide 3], future information science and technology historians will reformulate old questions, ask new ones and help us better understand our present while pondering our future. 

With Boyd Rayward’s demonstration of the interconnectedness of the historical information orders still in mind, it is impossible to miss the connection of the 2012 history pre-conference to past history conferences. Indeed, the significance of this most recent exploration of our history is best understood in its connection to the 1998 and 2002 history conferences. The connection is explained by Robert Williams, who considers the 2012 event the third in a series of history conferences on the history of information science and technology. The first was in 1998 [and] the second in 2002. All three conferences were held in connection with ASIS&T meetings, were well attended and produced excellent papers. Cumulatively, these conferences have produced the largest body of refereed literature on the history of information science and technology and, simultaneously, involved the largest number of people with an interest in the history of the field. 

Building on and grounded in the two prior conferences [3] [4], the 2012 event contributed to the expanding body of historical information science and technology literature. The event brought together experienced historians and new scholars and should generate new interest in the history of our field among the next generation of researchers. Williams’ challenge for the future is that “this is not the last of these kinds of conferences and that the young people presenting and attending them will take up and greatly expand the efforts we began 15 years ago.”

Historical Contexts of Technology Innovations and Impacts
Following a luncheon and the keynote speech, the presentations continued with the third conference theme, Historical Contexts of Technology Innovations and Impacts, moderated by Marcia Bates. As expected, Michael Buckland’s history of the photographic documentary techniques developed during the first half of the 20th century, with a focus on the work of Lodewyk Bendikson, both informed and captivated the audience. Buckland’s examples of the development of document forensics using varying light filters and wavelengths were particularly interesting and there was amusing mention of Bendikson’s eccentric experiment with an intoxicated bookworm. Unfortunately, Donald Hillman of Lehigh University was unable to present in person, but his account of the rise and fall of the Center for the Information Sciences at Lehigh University between 1962 and 1973 is available in the published proceedings. Karen Miller of the University of South Carolina led the audience through the emergence of the binary innovation from early electro-mechanical relays to the ubiquitous ones and zeroes that invisibly surround us. Andrew L. Russell of the Stevens Institute of Technology, whose research was funded in part by the ASIS&T History Fund, introduced us to Bancroft Gherardi of the Bell System, whose focus on the development of standards from 1920 to 1938 influenced the growth of information network systems within and outside AT&T into the 21st century. Finally, Xiaohua Zhu of the University of Tennessee related her case study of the evolution of digital legal information within one of the industry leaders, Lexis-Nexis. 

Development of Foundational Ideas and Theories in Information Science
The presentations related to the fourth conference theme, Development of Foundational Ideas and Theories in Information Science, were moderated by Jennifer W. Arns. Katharina Hauk and Wolfgang G. Stock of Heinrich-Heine-University in Düsseldorf, Germany, presented the pioneering work of Norbert Henrichs between the 1960s and 1990s to develop the text-word method of document indexing and his role as a leader in the German movement to develop specialized information centers for the delivery of scientific and technical literature. Colin Burke’s presentation, “The ‘Term’ in the Classifier’s Garden Or Dog, Man, Bites and Dollars,“ uniquely disclosed the conflict between classifiers and proponents of term-oriented retrieval as electronic retrieval flourished, leaving the audience with the irony that the search for automated semantic meaning is really the need to return to “once condemned hierarchies and categories.” Charles van den Heuvel of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences employed newly discovered archival material at the International Federation for Information and Documentation to explore European perceptions of the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC) and Dewey Decimal Classification Systems during the first-half of the 20th century through the work of Donker Duyvis, who became the secretary of the International Institute of Bibliography and one of the UDC revisers. Katherine W. McCain from Drexel University explored the influence of Derek De Solla Price’s 1965 “Networks of Scientific Papers” article in Science using citation-in-context analysis, concluding that citation growth over the last decade acknowledges Price as one of the first authors to describe social network power laws. The final paper of the 2012 history pre-conference was presented by Caroline Courbieres from the Université de Toulouse in France. Providing an understanding of “information as a signifying entity that is part of a situated process of communication,” Courbieres’ semiological approach to French documentation theory helps explain the linkage of French information science to communication science highlighted earlier by Ibekwe-SanJuan. 

The 2012 pre-conference on the history of ASIS&T and the field was capped by a reception. Despite hurricane Sandy’s threatening turn towards the northeast, the reception provided a relaxed venue for the dynamic exchange of ideas, comments and praise for the presenters. Toni Carbo notes, “The presentations exceeded even my high expectations, and the participants’ responses were extremely positive.” 

The 18 peer-reviewed papers are compiled in a single volume beautifully edited by Toni Carbo and Trudi Bellardo Hahn. International Perspectives on the History of Information Science and Technology: Proceedings of the ASIS&T 2012 Pre-Conference on the History of ASIS&T and Information Science and Technology is available in print or e-book form from Information Today at http://books.infotoday.com/asist/International-Perspectives.shtml. According to Carbo, “the publisher of the Proceedings, Information Today, went far beyond the usual effort and was a true partner with us on making the Proceedings available in print for the pre-conference and online soon after.” Asked about the publication, Carbo remarked, “We at ASIS&T have a valuable resource highlighting some of the top leaders and major developments of our field.”

The success of the 2012 pre-conference was due to the hard work and dedication of many individuals and organizations. Special recognition is due to the ASIS&T 75th Anniversary Task Force members: Toni Carbo (co-chair), Robert Williams (co-chair), Marcia Bates, Sarah Buchanan, Eugene Garfield, Trudi Bellardo Hahn, Kathryn LaBarre, Michel Menou, Julian Warner and Dick Hill (ex-officio). Recognition is also due to the nine tireless reviewers of the abstracts, initial submissions and completed papers: Diane Barlow, Sarah Buchanan, Toni Carbo, Trudi Bellardo Hahn, Kathryn La Barre, Sameer Patil, Julian Warner, Robert Williams and Iris Xie. ASIS&T SIG/International Information Issues (SIG/III) provided funds from the Elsevier Foundation to sponsor the keynote speech. The ASIS&T History Fund and the School of Library & Information Science at the University of South Carolina generously funded student registrations. The ASIS&T Board of Directors, Dick Hill and the ASIS&T staff provided valuable assistance and support. Toni Carbo noted that “the pre-conference took an enormous amount of work by many people, and I think I can speak for the entire task force and participants in saying that it was definitely well worth all of the effort.” 

The History of ASIS&T, Information Science and Technology Worldwide pre-conference was the capstone event organized by the ASIS&T 75th Anniversary Task Force, but the hard-working members continue to be involved in a number of other projects. The task force is continuing for at least another year to work on conducting oral history interviews of pioneering leaders in the field. For more details on this project, including the ways you can help it succeed, access the Doing Oral History Interviews webinar by Kathryn LaBarre and Robert Williams in the ASIS&T webinar archives. Trudi Bellardo Hahn is undertaking a project to digitize photographs from the ASIS&T archives with the assistance of students in the information management program at the University of Maryland, their instructor Katy Lawley and Kathryn LaBarre. With the help of Sarah Buchanan, the task force oversaw special events in North American chapters and SIGs. The European Chapter (with special recognition due to Michel Menou, Diane Sonnenwald, Jonathan Levitt and Mike Thelwell, among others) added to oral interviews, conducted a conference workshop and organized a Doctoral Forum. The history website was updated by Mark Needleman and Jan Hatzakos. 

The ASIS&T History Fund was created several years ago to encourage research and publication in the history of information science and technology. The fund sponsors an annual small grant program for projects exploring the history of the field and an annual Best History Paper award. Demonstrating the fund’s success in meeting its goals, the historical research conducted by one of the young scholars who presented at the 2012 history pre-conference was sponsored by the fund. The fund also sponsored student registrations for the pre-conference, encouraging the professional development of the next generation of information science and technology historians. To make a tax-deductible contribution to the fund, send a check payable to ASIS&T designated for the ASIS&T History Fund directly to Dick Hill at ASIS&T. A future history conference may feature a researcher sponsored by your donation!

This author extends thanks to everyone involved in the success of the 2012 history pre-conference and looks forward to the next one. The author is grateful to Toni Carbo, Robert V. Williams and Trudi Bellardo Hahn for their comments (liberally quoted) and suggestions for this article. 

Resources Mentioned in the Article
[1] Rayward, W. B. (2004). Scientific and technological information systems in their many contexts: The imperatives, clarifications, and inevitability of historical study. In W. B. Rayward & M.E. Bowden (Eds.), Proceedings of the Conference on the History and Heritage of Scientific and Technical Information Systems, Philadelphia, November 16–17, 2002 (pp. 1–14). Medford, NJ: Information Today for the American Society for Information Science and Technology and the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

[2] Rayward, W. B. (October 2012). The information society and the future of the history of information science [PowerPoint slides]. Keynote presentation at ASIS&T 2012 Pre-Conference on the History of ASIS&T and Information Science and Technology, Baltimore, MD. Retrieved December 20, 2012, from http://asis.org/asist2012/historyofASIST.html

[3] Bowden, M. E., Hahn, T. B., & Williams, R. V. (Eds.) (1999). Proceedings of the 1998 
Conference on the History and Heritage of Science Information Systems
. Medford, NJ: Information Today for the American Society for Information Science and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Retrieved December 20, 2012, from http://wayback.archive-it.org/2118/20101023161310/http://assets.chemheritage.org/explore/ASIS_documents/ASIS98_main.htm 

[4] Rayward, W. B, & Bowden, M. E. (Eds.). (2004). Proceedings of the Conference on the History and Heritage of Scientific and Technical Information Systems, Philadelphia, November 16–17, 2002. Medford, NJ: Information Today for the American Society for Information Science and Technology and the Chemical Heritage Foundation.


Karen Miller is a second-year doctoral student at the School of Library & Information Science at the University of South Carolina. She presented the paper, How Binary Became Ubiquitous, at the special 75th Anniversary pre-conference on the history of our Society and the field of information science. She is also the recipient of the 2012 ASIS&T SIG Member-of-the-Year Award. She can be reached at millerkaren<at>mindspring.com.