of the American Society for Information Science and Technology   Vol. 28, No. 2    December / January 2002


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ASIST Award of Merit Bestowed Upon Patrick G. Wilson

The Award of Merit, the highest honor bestowed by the American Society for Information Science and Technology, is presented each year to an individual who has made a noteworthy contribution to the field of information science, including the expression of new ideas, the creation of new devices, the development of better techniques and outstanding service to the profession of information science.  Presented each year at the Society's Annual Meeting, the honoree for 2001 is Patrick G. Wilson, professor emeritus in the School of Information Management and Systems, University of California, Berkeley. The following citation honors Patrick G. Wilson.

Patrick G. Wilson, professor emeritus in the School of Information Management and Systems, University of California, Berkeley, is presented with the 2001 Award of Merit by the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST) for significant contributions to the field of information science and librarianship through his thinking, writings, teaching and administrative work. His writings graceful, rigorous and not infrequently witty have centered on the intersection among knowledge, information and human behavior.

A philosopher and a librarian by training, he combines a penetrating intellect with a remarkably broad and wide-ranging reading of relevant material. Throughout his career, Wilson has displayed a subtle philosophic mind with the capability of communicating a lucid analysis sustained by lively argument. Because he ably crafts his thoughts into a rich and informative text format, his work is permanently useful to teachers of foundation courses in library and information science. He has deepened our understanding of the concept of relevance, and he has brought new interest to familiar topics such as the design of bibliographies, catalogs and indexes. In addition his insight into the psychology of users of these instruments is always acute.

Patrick never lost sight of the fact that in information access, the most important component is an intelligent inquirer with real needs, hopes and desires. In his 1973 article, "Situational Relevance," he cast the central issue of relevance as based not only on the inquirer's stated request and the information available, or on some semantic or syntactic relationship between an information request and the descriptions available, but primarily on the inquirer's own personal concerns, preferences and stock of knowledge. In so doing, he gave us a clear sense of the limitations of information technology and of our need to constantly remind ourselves that information management is more than just the matching of information requests to the descriptions of available information.

Patrick always addresses the important issues in the field, regardless of their difficulty or unpopularity. He has the uncanny ability to see through the complexity of information management to the core of the issue. He never fell into the common trap of confusing the tools of information management with the job of information management.

His three books, Two Kinds of Power: An Essay on Bibliographical Control (1968); Public Knowledge, Private Ignorance Toward a Library and Information Policy (1977); and  Second-Hand Knowledge: An Inquiry into Cognitive Authority (1983) have not become dated. They represent the most penetrating investigation of fundamental ideas in information science and librarianship that anyone has yet undertaken. They are books that can be given to sophisticated readers unfamiliar with the field with the confidence that they will find our field to be complex, interesting and vital. These books have made converts to the field and attracted new researchers who are entranced and enriched by Patrick's intellectual reach.

Beyond the three magisterial books, Patrick has contributed numerous pieces that cannot be ignored when attempts to define library and information science are made. For example, his essays, "Some fundamental concepts of information retrieval," "Bibliographical R&D" and "The future of research in our field" illustrate his wide range. Through a reading of these essays one can see that he takes all of information science as his province introducing new concepts throughout his writings. He goes from reference librarianship to research communities; from bibliographic instruction to information overload. His reference lists alone are capable of introducing readers to a great variety of contemporary work in philosophy, history and the social sciences.

Patrick calls himself eclectic in his book-length memoir recently published by the University of California, and that term is just and accurate. But his has not been the eclecticism of a dabbler; he has enriched the scholarship of his time with works that genuinely instruct, because he has thought so deeply about difficult questions and expressed his views on them so superbly.

The ASIST 2001 Award of Merit is presented to Patrick Wilson, a scholar of the highest caliber, an excellent teacher, a wise and supportive advisor and a former dean of an outstanding school.

Thank you Patrick for working the opposite way. Thanks for reminding us to keep looking for better questions, thanks for modeling passionate skepticism. Thanks Patrick!

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