Version of Record online: 1 JUN 2009
Copyright © 2008 by American Society for Information Science and Technology
Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology
Volume 45, Issue 1, pages 1–2, 2008
How to Cite
(2008), Original information. Proc. Am. Soc. Info. Sci. Tech., 45: 1–2. doi: 10.1002/meet.2008.1450450361
- Issue online: 3 JUN 2009
- Version of Record online: 1 JUN 2009
During the last decade, discussions about information schools have proliferated. While some understand information schools as a sign of waning library education standards (Berry III, 2007; Crowley, 1999; Crowley & Brace, 1999), others describe the movement more positively (Dillon et al., 2006; King, 2006; Oder, 2007) . Still others describe the movement as a disciplinary identity crisis (Cronin, 2005) . While the meaning of information schools are widely debated, they have not, with minor exception, been systematically studied. In this research, I add historical awareness to the current information school movement by studying the contextual and rhetorical nature of the “original information school” at Syracuse University.
Syracuse's School of Library Science became the School of Information Studies in 1974. The renaming occurred during the tenure of Dean Robert S. Taylor, a former librarian, historian, journalist, World War II intelligence agent, and professor. Taylor described the experiences of his multifaceted career as integral to his understanding of librarianship and information. For example, describing his post-war experience he said he “lived in a sea of information” and it made him “slightly paranoid (in a gentle sense of course)” (2005, p. 12) . The variety of careers contributed to a “very broad” view of information and libraries (Economics of Information Dissemination; a Symposium, 1973; Taylor, 1978, 1963, 2005; Taylor, 1979). His broad view resembled popular perceptions of information as a substance that flows, is economical, and can be harnessed (Bowles, 2000; Day, 2000).
After World War II, librarianship, along with academia, flourished due to returning veterans. Universities enjoyed a surge in student enrollment, though that surge was predominately white and male (Cohen, 2004, p. 138) . Librarians, identifying themselves as appendages to the education system likewise spoke of prosperity (Bobinski, 1984) . Many new LIS schools were opened during this time—the fifties and sixties have since been identified as a time of LIS expansion (Stieg, 1992, p. 27) . But in the late sixties, the rhetoric of a “golden age” of librarianship dissipated. Schools began having difficulty placing graduates, and librarians increasingly spoke of a shrinking job market (Frarey & Learmont, 1976). Immediately prior to the Syracuse renaming, librarians and educators were speaking of a recession of librarianship.
The Syracuse University Libraries were faring no better during the late sixties. Lack of space and financial resources were leading to space and hiring problems (Annual Report, 1968; Annual Report, 1970; Annual Report, 1967; Annual Report, 1971). Staff turnover was higher than the national average. Though Syracuse University Library annual reports mostly provided negative feedback about the library's situation, one topic was cited as improved. The lack of space had forced the library to decentralize—many departments, including technical services were moved—and this new arrangement allowed increased cataloging productivity. The new “information flow” allowed staff to catalog a backlog of materials.
Partially in response to these events, as Taylor became dean the school's literature was refocused to attract the returning veterans of WWII—white males—that comprised academia. Syllabi, bulletins, and conference papers asserted the need for a new “information professional” who was different than the typical librarian (“Syracuse School of Information Studies Bulletin,” 1974; Taylor & Hershfield, 1973) . The tropes of the white male population replaced Syracuse's previous recruitment efforts. Several documents suggested concern about the continued enrollment of stereotypical librarians. The literature also encouraged students to look for jobs outside of libraries—potentially to keep enrollment high as the negative rhetoric of librarianship proliferated.
The Syracuse name change suggests at least two themes—an understanding of information as a substance that is economical and controllable and a turn to tropes that were male-oriented. The current information school movement needs to question whether these themes pervade today and what that means for the modern information school.