B  U  L  L  E  T  I  N

    of the American Society for Information Science and Technology         Vol. 31, No. 5        June/July 2005

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Social Informatics  
W. David Penniman, Guest Editor

Dave Penniman is dean and professor at the School of Informatics at the University at Buffalo . He can be reached by email at penniman@buffalo.edu  

For this special section of the Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, which we’ll wrap up with a final article in the next issue, we have gathered a collection of articles that describe “social informatics” in principle and practice. When you read these articles, you may still wonder, “Do I really know what is meant when they say social informatics?” We have grappled with this question in the School of Informatics at the University at Buffalo since our first efforts at creating a mission for the school in 2001. We knew that our concerns are different from computer science, library science, information science or even communication, and yet all of these areas were a part of the picture. We knew that our focus was on the intersections of people, information and technology and that our mission involved the social aspects of information. And, we were not alone, nor were we first to articulate this focus.

No discussion of social informatics can begin without acknowledging the contributions of Rob Kling, whose untimely death robbed him of the joy of seeing his words quoted frequently and his ideas embraced by so many. His Center for Social Informatics at Indiana University paved the way for the authors in this special section and for scholars everywhere who seek to understand the social contexts of information technology and the interaction between technology and social change. As Steve Sawyer said of him, “Rob was not always right, but he was always certain. He was not always polished, but he was always bright.” Steve and others honor him by continuing the work Rob began.

Indiana University, like the University at Buffalo, has a School of Informatics in addition to the Center for Social Informatics. While there are only two “Schools of Informatics” in the United States currently, this domain is also embraced by other academic units. The new “information schools” that are emerging from traditional library schools such as the Information School at the University of Washington or evolving computer science schools such as the one at the University of California at Irvine are embracing informatics concepts. This broadened view is not limited to our continent either. Scholars such as Liz Davenport at Napier University (as well as those at the University at Edinburgh) also embrace the concepts presented in the following articles. Those of us in the United States are not alone, nor are we operating independently. There is an “invisible college” of scholars and practitioners sharing ideas and research without geographic boundaries. Indeed, we are subjects of our own domain – for we are engaged in social informatics as we develop this field.

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