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Vol. 26, No. 2

December / January 2000

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Dr. Eugene Garfield's Inaugural Address

From 1950s Documentalists to 20th Century Information Scientists -- and Beyond

ASIS Enters the Year 2000 Facing Remarkable Advances and Challenges in Harnessing the Information Technology Revolution

by Eugene Garfield

Last year when Ralf Shaw called about my running for President, my immediate reaction was to think of another Ralph Shaw, a pioneer member of ADI, best known for his collaboration with Vannevar Bush on the Rapid Selector. After I had organized what I considered to be an intellectually important event, the First Symposium on Machine Methods in Scientific Documentation, Ralph wrote me cryptically in March 1953 and said: "Garfield, as a documentalist, you make a great caterer!" For a three-dollar registration fee, attendees received copies of all the papers and a 9-to-5 diatribe on machine methods by yours truly, interrupted by a sumptuous buffet luncheon prepared by the chef at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Seventeen years later, I tried to live up to that reputation when we organized the 1970 ASIS Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. It turned out to be a spectacular musical success including a Mummers Parade, thanks to the efforts of Mel Weinstock. But I never received a note from Ralph or anyone saying I made a great impresario. That performance was matched by Jim Cretsos at the 1976 Mid-Year Meeting with the Grand Ole Opry.

Before accepting the ASIS nomination I called my friend Robert K. Merton to ask his advice. He reminded me of John Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you…." I'm sure you know the rest.

So it was with humility that I accepted the responsibility to take a leadership role in ASIS once again and dedicate myself to achieving the goals outlined in my statement. Many of our challenges today are similar to those we faced 40 years ago, but information science has matured significantly and is enjoying the limelight of international attention.

Here are a few quotes from my election platform statement:

       "I would like to leave office with a plan in place that would move ASIS into a new phase of growth and commitment to the information age. ASIS must reach out to a variety of information constituencies, increase its membership significantly, and thereby firmly establish its financial stability. We should reassert our basic commitment to research. But we must also dedicate ourselves to educational outreach programs as implied by the Administration's goal to make all our children information technology literate.

       "Ever since I joined the American Documentation Institute (ADI) in the 50s, the predecessor of ASIS, our Society has been challenged by new technological and other crises. In the early days, we regularly agonized over the definition of documentation but eventually, we recognized that the term information science better described our aspirations. We also experienced periodic financial ups and downs. Later, we faced the challenge of newer information technologies. The 1970 Annual Meeting theme, The Information Conscious Society, recognized that information science and technology are in a constant interrelated state of change. In the late 1960s and 70s, ASIS members were leaders in the 'online' revolution and helped society adapt to this new technology. However, the alleged differences between information and library science, real or imagined, seemed to differentiate, if not alienate us, from practicing librarians and information technologists. Periodically, we have wondered if ASIS should be a broader organization. We have even considered merging with other groups. But a significant number of members wished to retain our character as a small basic research-oriented group.

       "In the 1990s, the Internet is yet another major technological development that has already had a great impact on information science and raises once again the need to redefine ourselves. This is an opportune time for a major strategic assessment of the society and the environment that is impacting it. As your president, I would like to organize a series of forums whose purpose is to review and help resolve the new generation's ambiguity on these questions. Indeed, information science and technology is a concept that may better characterize the ASIS community in the 21st century. This term is already reflected in newly established or renamed educational programs. I would hope to leave behind a legacy that we in ASIS really know who we are, where we want to go and how to get there."

After my election and several briefings with [executive director] Dick Hill, I realized how difficult achieving these goals would be. In fact, I was reliving a bad dream. Our 1960s financial crisis was accompanied by an identity crisis reflecting the growing divergence of information science and technology then taking place. A heated debate on whether to change our name followed. A strong and vocal minority then, and 10 years later, voted down the proposal. Partially, as a consequence, ASIS membership has declined steadily over the next 20 years.

In 1991, membership remained at about 3,000, but in the last three or four years, we have been on a downward slope of about 5 or 6% a year. And there is no sign of it leveling off. Some members do not consider this a critical situation. Indeed, some may prefer a smaller, intimate society. The majority, however, recognize that we need a critical mass of membership if we are to survive, no less thrive. In either case, the vision of a large and influential society of information professionals is secondary to that of resolving our immediate financial problems. Only by increasing dues have we avoided a reduction in revenue from membership. However, ASIS has been losing money due to the variable performance of meetings and publications. Our success with meetings is related to our membership numbers, but as this meeting demonstrates, good promotion helps.

ASIS has also missed several other opportunities for increasing revenue. Even though the research and academically oriented community represent less than half the membership, this sector has dominated ASIS leadership. The rejection of the proposed change in name a decade ago seemed to symbolize that we were no longer interested in applied information science. And the general image of JASIS adds to that perception.

When I first attended the ASIS board meeting last November, I did not get the feeling that the urgency of our financial situation was adequately recognized. I found the presentation of financial data difficult to understand. The following figure is a first cut at simplifying rather complex financial data that I hope we can elaborate further in the months to come
.

The figure above plots income versus outlays but does not fully account for the status of reserves or national funds. The monies we received from AFIPS (American Federation of Information Processing Societies) can probably explain the two bumps in 1988 and 1992. In 1992, our share from the AFIPS dissolution was about $83,000. However, we still have continued to use up our reserves.

As the next figure shows, during the past three years, 1996-1999, we have used up about $175,000 in reserves. We believe these losses are due to a failure to focus our meetings on topics of current interest such as knowledge management, digital libraries and the Internet in general. This pattern was reversed at this successful 1999 Annual Meeting. And we believe the forthcoming Boston meeting will prove successful since information architecture is currently a hot topic indeed.

It does not require Alan Greenspan to figure out that you can't stay in business very long if you regularly show red ink. By the time of the Board meeting in Pasadena last May, this message seemed to be getting through. As a consequence, Dick Hill was asked to reduce his staff budget by about $80,000.

However, staff expenses are only part of the reason for our difficulties. Losing half our membership means that instead of a potential $450,000 per year from dues, we now only take in about $250,000. Unless other sources of revenue are increased, it will be difficult to sustain our Washington site. So the Board has approved seeking RFPs from outside management in order to share expenses for office facilities. Pat Molholt and I are investigating the various options and will report to the Board.

How can ASIS grow in the future? An important source of future members should be found among our 800 student members, primarily in LIS programs. We need to ask why other relevant programs are not represented. However, because of our research orientation and seeming lack of commitment to applied work, even LIS students abandon ASIS once they graduate and find jobs. As students, they are pre-occupied with the research interests of their academic mentors. But after graduation, they go off into more practical orientations. We may need to give them a few more years before they are required to pay dues at the regular member rate. But we also have to provide programs that satisfy their professional needs. This issue is also related to the question of dual memberships. We have to discuss the risks we may have to take to attract not only student members who join competitive societies, but also other members of those societies.

Some board members believe that we've lost membership because the Internet has changed the way scholars interact. Allegedly, they do not need as many societal affiliations. But this doesn't seem to apply to other societies in the information arena. All of us, young and old, need social interaction. While we have access to phone, fax and e-mail, we still need in-person contact. Others feel we've lost members because of tighter budgetary restraints in industry and academe.

In trying to better understand the ASIS situation, I felt frustrated by a lack of current information about our membership. So we recently sent out an e-mail questionnaire.

Of 1833 responses, 47% are from members in academia, 34% in business, 11% from government and 7% from non-profits. Of the members in academia, 60% teach in LIS programs.

All of these issues, I believe, are related to the question of our name. I don't think most members appreciate what the change may mean for us in the future. It has been difficult to get most members to express their views on this topic. A small group speaks up while the rest remain silent. Many don't seem to care. Most do not realize that previously in fact the majority voted in favor of change. (On November 11th, the Instapoll on the ASIS Web site indicates that 62% favor the change [217 vs. 130]. The poll represents only about 15% of the membership, but probably 30% of those who cast ballots. All members should vote in this straw poll.) The constitution requires 75% so we are investigating alternative constitutional options.

Tom Hogan advised us that the membership did not adequately discuss the issue last time. So when the Board expressed its approval of the name change in Pasadena, it also expressed a desire to have the issue fully discussed. While only a small percent have responded, most of the comments have been constructive and confirm our need for periodic self-evaluation.

The name discussion has been accompanied by parallel discussion of our SIGs. Some of these had become obsolete. Some SIGs are very successful and active; others are dismal. Others need to have up-to-date descriptions. Recently, SIG/MED became Medical Informatics. And now we have a virtual SIG called SIG/Metrics. Hopefully, other virtual SIGs will be started soon. Samantha Hastings and Mike Stallings have worked very hard at revitalizing and reorganizing our SIGs.

The Board has recognized that we need to change the intellectual focus of our meetings, and since we could no longer justify a full Mid-Year Meeting, we have adopted the alternative of a topically oriented spring program. Hence, the forthcoming "mid-year" conference on information architecture to be held in Boston, April 8 and 9. However, we are not restricted to holding only one of these each year.

The major sources of revenue for most professional societies are membership dues, publications and meetings. The ASIS financial picture has been dragged down for the past 22 years as a result of the disastrous effects of the 1976 Bicentennial Conference held here in Washington, as well as a series of monographic publication failures. Those losses led to the desperate step of leasing the journal to a publisher who recognized the long-term financial value of our journal. ASIS was under imminent danger of bankruptcy. So even if the Board recognized the value of JASIS, it felt it had no other choice but to accept the offer of a convertible debenture, which is financial jargon for a guaranteed advance against future royalties. John Wiley & Sons loaned us $350,000, which was repaid within 10 years from ASIS' 20% royalty on subscription revenues. But, for the next 12 years, our royalty was dropped to 5%. This wasn't even enough to cover our cost to provide copies of JASIS to the membership.

I am glad to report that we have re-negotiated this contract. As of 2000, ASIS will benefit from the significant effort that its authors, referees and members put into the journal. Under the new terms, our royalty reverts to the original 20%. This represents a change of about $100,000 per year.

If we estimate that library subscriptions will go down to 550 in 2000, then the total subscription revenue would be about $700,000 of which we receive 20%. As you see, the inordinate price increases in the past five years, combined with cuts in library budgets, led to a substantial loss of circulation. This has also had a negative impact on our membership and influence.

Neither of the graphics for membership or subscriptions includes institutional membership income. This is an important source of revenue for ASIS. I think that the new contract will give both Wiley and ASIS incentive to promote electronic access to the journal.

As of 2000, all ASIS members will have electronic access to the full archive of about 10 years of data. All library subscribers will have an institution-wide site license. And it is my expectation that we will create an electronic digital library of the full run of 62 years of JASIS.

It is also important to note that this is a landmark year for the Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (ARIST). Martha Williams will be retiring as editor. We are all grateful to Martha for her 25 years of dedicated service. And we should also acknowledge publisher Tom Hogan for supporting ARIST. We should now support the new editor in improving the content and influence of ARIST . A first rate review journal is the hallmark of a mature scientific society.

In order to characterize the place of ASIS in the pantheon of multiple memberships that our members share, we asked them to designate their primary affiliation. Based on a random sample of 252 of the responses to our e-mail survey, neither ASIS nor any other group is the majority society. ASIS was designated the primary society by 103 respondents; ALA is next with 41, followed by SLA with 28 and ACM with 27. About 50 other societies were listed. When combined, they account for about 70 members -- about one third. So it will be important to see the detailed results of the analysis for the entire responses of over 1,000.

Another area that I believe we need to address is that of dual memberships. Our preliminary survey has shown the extent of multiple society memberships. In order to encourage more information professionals to join ASIS, we should consider offering them incentives and possibly negotiate reciprocal agreements with other groups such as SLA, MLA and others. We have to balance the potential loss in revenue against the potential gain in membership. With the agreement of existing members, we could test this for a few years or find alternative methods of solving the problem.

We also obtained data on which society ASIS members are most active in. We need to study this more carefully. Clearly, ASIS is the most designated with 68 members selecting ASIS as the society in which they are most active. A large number, 28 said "None" when asked their most active society. SLA followed with 18, ALA with 14 and ACM with 10.

There are many small societies like ASIS with less than 2,000 members. But most of those societies have retained full ownership of their publications. And perhaps they offer much less service to members. Unless we can, at minimum, stabilize membership, we must seek revenue from other sources such as specialized meetings and publications.

As I mentioned in my election statement, we need a five-year plan. And I'm glad that President-elect Joe Busch and others agree. ASIS has had such plans before but they have not been carried out. Hopefully, our new Program Advisory Board will enable ASIS to play an increasingly stronger role, not only in information science and technology education and research, but also as a bridge between all information professionals and the increasingly information conscious society.

With a view towards expanding our concept of who future members might be, let me remind you that back in 1962, I asked in a Current Contents® essay "Who are the information scientists?" (Garfield, E., August 7, 1962. Reprinted in Essays of an Information Scientist, v. 1. Philadelphia: ISI Press, 1977. http://165.123.33.33/eugene_garfield/essays/V1p002y1962-73.pdf) In that essay, I forecast that one day every laboratory scientist and scholar would become an information scientist. Today, almost all scholars are totally dependent upon information technology, not just those involved in genomic and chemical informatics. As was the case when ASIS first began, there will always be a small percentage of the large population of practicing laboratory scientists and scholars who will want to associate with other professionals of similar interests. We have to find a way to get outside the confines of the LIS world to reach this bigger audience. Otherwise, we may have to accept that we will play a diminishing role in the world of LIS unless we move toward some type of close collaboration with SLA and ALA, the two groups with whom our members presently are most closely associated.

In closing, let me state that I am optimistic about the future of ASIS. With your help, I think we can become not only a larger but also a more prosperous professional society that will contribute to the new and exciting century of the information world.

Eugene Garfield is the current president of ASIS, chairman emeritus of ISI and publisher of The Scientist.  These remarks are his Inaugural Address delivered at the Annual Business Meeting at the 1999 ASIS Annual Meeting. He can be reached by mail at The Scientist, 3600 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104; by phone at 215/243-2205; by fax at 215/387-1266; or by e-mail at garfield@codex.cis.upenn.edu.


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