of the American Society for Information Science and Technology          Vol. 28, No. 5         June / July 2002


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Peeking Behind the Covers of ARIST

by Blaise Cronin

Blaise Cronin, editor of ARIST, is dean & Rudy Professor of Information Science in the Indiana University SLIS, Bloomington, IN  47405; e-mail: bcronin@indiana.edu

It's about 30 years since I first picked up a copy of ARIST - the Annual Review of Information Science and Technology. Now I have the privilege and responsibility of editing it. Eighteen months ago I took over the reins from Martha Williams, who toiled in this particular vineyard for 25 years an achievement which won't be trumped. We, the ASIST membership, are greatly in her debt.

ARIST is a reassuring perennial of the information science literature, balanced and bibliographically reliable. It's not flashy in either form or content. Authors are not writing for the moment; rather they are providing a measured and analytic review of the research literature that will likely be drawn upon for years to come. ARIST chapters provide a kind of bibliographic benchmark, a safe point of departure for tyros and others entering a literature with which they are unfamiliar.

Editing is a bit like electricity; we take it for granted. It's only when there's an outage, or stylistic outrage, that we become aware of the supporting infrastructure. Editors don't get rich and don't become famous (well, not as a rule). They derive their satisfaction from the renown of the authors they assemble and the value of the topics they foreground, and, ultimately, from both reviewers' and readers' satisfaction with the end product. Ultimately, an editor's contribution is only as good as the team he fields.

I'm not exactly new to editing. Over the years I've edited a journal and been editor of a fair number of monographs and conference proceedings. But all of these ventures pale into insignificance alongside ARIST, and not just because ARIST has had, historically, exacting standards, but because editing ARIST calls for the skills of a juggler. Let me explain. There comes a moment in the calendar year when three volumes of ARIST are in different stages of development. Now I understand why Martha said something to the effect that ARIST was like a ball and chain. There may be life after ARIST, but there is no life while editor, which is why I have armed myself with a trusty associate editor, Debora Shaw, former ASIST president, whose eminent good sense and versatility are essential to the production process.

Volume 36, which appeared at the end of February, is my first born, weighing in at a healthy 690 pages. It contains a lengthier than usual introduction in which I lay out some of my plans for the future. Rather than paraphrase what I've already written, permit me to quote a chunk from that introduction.

    "A change in editorship is almost invariably accompanied by changes in the product, whether in terms of style, coverage or design, or all of the foregoing. Connoisseurs of ARIST will quickly notice some of the initial changes, and not all of these, I imagine, will be greeted with unalloyed enthusiasm. Perhaps the most obvious breach with convention is the adoption of the APA (American Psychological Association) referencing style, a move welcomed rapturously, it must be said, by some contributing authors. Since the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (JASIST) uses this convention, and since ARIST and JASIST are stable mates with much in common, not least authors, readers and topic coverage, there seems little reason for ARIST to persist with its rather baroque bibliographic practices: all the more so, now that JASIST's transatlantic peer, the Journal of Documentation, has announced its adoption of the APA referencing style. I am also keen to move beyond the bibliographic review model and have authors inject more of their own voice into the text in an effort to overcome (and here I am quoting from Theodore D. Kemper's piece, Toward Sociology as a Science, Maybe, in the August 11, 2000, issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education) what the sociologist John Lofland of the University of California at Davis termed 'analytic interruptus,' the failure of many review chapter authors to engage analytically with their subject matter. The goal, in other words, is to provide the reader with a balanced, though certainly not uncritical or characterless, overview of current and emerging issues, a summary of recent work in the focal area, and a sense of the important research questions to be addressed. Other changes are sufficiently cosmetic or uncontentious as to be unremarkable, such as the inclusion of short biographical entries on our contributors those who, ultimately, provide the volume's warrant.

     "Some things, however, will not change. ARIST has long been considered a landmark publication within the information science community. It provides the reader with analytical, authoritative and accessible overviews of recent trends and significant developments. I fully intend to see that these three virtues are respected in future volumes. The range of topics will vary considerably, reflecting the dynamism of the domain and the diversity of prevailing research, both theoretical and applied. My goal is to progressively broaden the coverage by increasing the number of chapters and reducing slightly the average length, both of the text and bibliography. While ARIST will naturally continue to cover foundational topics associated with what I shall call classical information science, of which bibliometrics and information retrieval are staples, my intention is to expand its footprint, prudently and selectively, in an effort to connect information science more tightly with cognate academic and professional communities where the study of information phenomena, behaviors and artifacts is also of central intellectual concern. Interest in information science, broadly defined, is growing apace, and the challenge for ARIST is to consolidate its leadership position by building on its pedigree and perceived authority. However, introversion or ideational xenophobia could eventually undermine ARIST's value and attractiveness to core constituencies. Thus, the principal challenge, as I see it, is to subtly reposition ARIST such that it neither abandons its heartland market nor fails to establish a credible presence in emerging areas of importance to the wider information science community."

If you'd like to know more about ARIST's history, advisory board, future volumes, the publisher (Information Today, Inc.) or how to order your copy, just go to the redesigned web site at www.asis.org/Publications/ARIST/index.html or contact me via e-mail at bcronin@indiana.edu.

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