of the American Society for Information Science

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Volume 26, No. 1

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October  / November 1999



Inside ASIS

ASIS Name Change Proposal Draws Variety of Member Response

In March 1999 Eugene Garfield, president-elect of ASIS, proposed to the members that the name of the Society should be changed to the American Society for Information Science and Technology. The text of his proposal was reprinted in the June/July issue of the Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science. Members discussed the proposal at the ASIS Mid-Year Meeting in Pasadena, and the results of the discussion were included in a letter to all members from Candy Schwartz and in her "President's Page" in the August/September issue of the Bulletin. At that time the Board endorsed changing the name of the Society to the American Society for Information Science and  Technology. Past issues of the Bulletin, including these proposals and reports, are available on the Bulletin Web site at www.asis.org.

As space allows, I am reprinting below communications about the name change chosen to represent the range of opinions expressed and the issues raised to-date (September 1, 1999). In order to include more letters I have occasionally excerpted the content. I have also made no attempt to show the relative support for any of these positions in the back-and-forth on the ASIS listserv, ASIS-L. Members should follow the discussion in ASIS-L. The debate will no doubt continue in the months leading up the Annual Meeting.

Please be kind to your fellow members and remember that many of these comments come from a listserv, which does not by culture require the same level of polish that one would expect in a formal Letter to the Editor.

Irene L. Travis, Editor,
 Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science

(Received by the ASIS Bulletin, April 29, 1999)

The Reasons Why I Support the Name Change to ASIST

ASIS means a great deal to me. Even in retirement, ASIS is an integral part of my daily life. I owe the members of our Society my personally rewarding career as an information professional, so I want to pay them back. I want ASIS to grow. I want to see new information professionals join our Society and discover the opportunities that only ASIS can provide. I want to see our members grow and blossom professionally through ASIS. That is my goal. And I have dedicated most of my life to that.

The world is in a state of flux. Our profession is changing. ASIS is changing. In our daily lives we encounter a series of tiny changes - changes that sometimes cause slight, but temporary discomfort, but these changes make us feel better, stronger and wiser, in the long run.

Change is the name of the game

When I first entered our field, the name of the American Documentation Institute (ADI) reflected the essence of our work. Computers were huge enigmatic machines, hidden in the bowels of big corporations and the government. Edge-notched punched, peek-a-boo and Zatocards were some of the information retrieval tools of that era. Then IBM sorters, punched cards and statistical machines further revolutionized the way we handled information. The field of documentation began to change with the new technologies. We were no longer documentalists. We had become information specialists, and soon the information field evolved to a domain called information science. So 31 years after its founding we voted to change ADI to the American Society for Information Science.

For some of our members, that change created a sense of discomfort. There was some concern about the impact of the name change on work identity. Some thought personnel departments might be reluctant to develop new job classifications. Some questioned whether information science was a legitimate term. And to some, the acronym did not sound right. ADI had been music to their ears, and ASIS sounded like "as is." But for the majority the name ASIS symbolized the future.

After that name change, ASIS flourished. ASIS membership grew rapidly. The number of annual conferences doubled. Papers submitted to the Journal of the American Society for Information Science grew in numbers, quality and vision. Special interest groups (SIGs) were created to meet the needs of a highly diverse ASIS membership. Soon after our name change, Congress included the phrase information science in the newly created U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. Similarly, many library schools changed their names to include information science.

What is so special about a name? A name identifies an individual, a group of people, a product. It has marketing value. It sells. And businesses pay big bucks to create names for their companies and their products and services, names that will help them obtain a competitive edge.

It may sound blasphemous to talk about marketing and selling to a scholarly society like ours. But we are in direct competition with other professional organizations. The fact is our membership is dropping rapidly. We lose members for a variety reasons, many of which may be beyond our control. But we are not recruiting enough new members to offset the loss, much less to enhance our growth. We need to make some changes.

To its credit, the ASIS Board of Directors has been addressing these issues and is taking steps to stem the losses. At the same time, they are making an overt effort to increase the visibility of ASIS so we can attract new members. We need to do that for ASIS to survive. But we need to act now.

ASIS has many dedicated members and a highly competent headquarters staff working jointly to raise the standards of our Society. There is no shortage of talent or visionaries. The same visionary, who 31 years ago suggested changing the name to ASIS, has returned to suggest we now change our name to the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST). Gene Garfield is a veteran of our field and understands the information marketplace. He is sensitive to future trends and recognizes that the future of information science pervasively involves information technology.

Information technology has facilitated the conversion of information research findings to applications. PCs and the Internet have dramatically changed the field of information science again. Even our normally slow-moving government has embraced information technology by increasing the funding of information technology research by nearly 30%. Can ASIS really afford to ignore information technology when it now accounts for 35% of this country's economic growth?

Simply changing our name to include technology is not sufficient to reverse our membership decline. Other significant changes are necessary to make that change effective. But a name change can act as a catalyst for dynamic change and will enable us to grow and prosper as a professional organization. In my view, ASIST is that catalyst.

Jim Cretsos, President of ASIS, 1979


(To ASIS-L, Posted April 20, 1999)

Sitting around with Bonnie [Carroll] and Gene [Garfield] in Pittsburgh last year, we discussed the international aspects of what ASIS is doing, and the thought was that perhaps we should be the International Society for Information Science.

When I saw the subject line on this e-mail, I thought that was going to be the topic. I think the International aspect is more important that the Technology aspect.  My 2 cents.

Emil Levine, Head, INIS Clearinghouse


(To ASIS-L, Posted May 1, 1999)

Two more ¢ (Canadian cents = 1.4 US¢)

The debate that Gene Garfield kicked off is not whether the "L" word should appear in our organization's title, but what will attract new or retain old members. I doubt any member of ASIS is opposed to libraries, but that's not the point. One point is that this society is not based on any one institution. Another is that there seem to be (at least) two broad classes of members, one who thinks of information science as a science, one consisting of practitioners or those involved in industry and are primarily interested in the applications of information science.

No point debating whether we're really a science. It would be endless. Some wit once said that any discipline that includes the word science in its name isn't one.

But, let's concentrate on the real problem. What, if anything, will make ASIS into a larger, more coherent, more influential organization?

Changing the name, as Gene suggests, might help, but my own feeling is that it's action, not the name change, that will matter most. I would like to see ASIS become more international. That requires more than a name change. It requires something of a change in attitude among members and administrators.

Will becoming more oriented to technology help? In one sense, yes, because there are more technologists or practitioners than scientists in the field. But what would attract them? I'm not sure. Is it just a matter of more applied articles in JASIS? No. When I was its editor, I tried to get more applied articles. I know how hard Don Kraft has worked to do so. Fact is, most practitioners don't have the motivation to publish that academics do. So, what will work? Not sure.

 My own sense is that we have two very different groups. It would be great if we could come together more, see each other's points of view. Maybe we should try to merge several societies or create a federation, so none loses its identity.

Charles T. Meadow, Professor Emeritus
(O)  416/978-4665; (H): 416/366-9494


(To ASIS-L, Posted May 5, 1999)

Directions for ASIS

I'm really glad Gene is taking up this question of how to re-energize ASIS. I found it such an exciting field when I entered it in the late 60s and still find the research fascinating and the ASIS crowd a great bunch of people. So why are we having these problems? I knew we were in trouble when we stopped having exhibits. How can you have a society with the topic matter we deal with and not have exhibits?!

Lots of thoughts:

  • As a one-time SIG (Special Interest Group) Director, the real mystery to me in all of this is why didn't the ASIS SIGs branch off the way ACM's SIGs do? ACM SIGs have their own conferences, but see themselves as a part of the overall organization. Why aren't the social science information and the medical information societies SIGs of a much bigger ASIS? When online searching was really big, it branched out into at least two other annual conferences that were not associated with ASIS. Why not?
  • As the comments about the "L" word indicate, the library field is undergoing a similar bit of agonizing about its future. The comment about librarianship being a "pseudo-science" was a surprise to me - I don't usually run into information scientists with that assumption. On the contrary, I've heard or read on listservs vastly more comments about how hostile information schools supposedly are to libraries and librarians than I have ever actually heard such hostility expressed by people in those schools.
  • The academic/theoretical vs. applied/practitioner issue is very important and needs to be understood as a phenomenon not limited to information science. A way that many other fields deal with that is to have two types of journals - one for research and theory and the other for applications. This is not a small distinction. There have been many complaints over the years – including in this thread about the name change – that the Journal is too theoretical. Well, I think we'd all agree that both theory and application are needed in the field and in the Society. One way to get both might be to change and expand the Bulletin so that it serves that applications function. I've always found the mix of theory and application to be one of the great strengths of ASIS.
  • More generally, we might look at JASIS for some ideas about the Society. JASIS is the most thriving part of this society right now. Don [Kraft] has found many people to publish in the Journal, many of whom I suspect would not otherwise see it as their main journal.
  • Finally, you all might find a paper of mine of interest for this debate. I discuss what I see as some of the "invisible substrate" of information science, parts of the paradigm that are so essential, so much a part of the fabric of our thinking that we don't see it – like not seeing air and so forgetting that it is there. Bringing these invisible parts to consciousness may help us sort out how to identify the proper territory that is distinctively ours. The paper is at my Web site listed below and will be published this fall in slightly different form in the JASIS 50th anniversary celebration.
  • Marcia J. Bates, Professor


    (To ASIS-L, Posted July 2, 1999)

    … and Technology

    Dear Mr. Garfield,

    Your arguments [for a name change] augur for a lively discussion in the coming months. Some concerns immediately arise.

    Why is yet another professional association centered around information technology needed? There are already dozens of such organizations.

    In fact, you point out that the nascent field of bioinformatics alone has "spawned dozens of new information related societies." Why another? Why would a bioinformaticist join ASIST if the others already exist? What technology-based focus would they get from ASIST that they do not get from these other organizations? If interested in issues beyond information technology, why not join ASIS as it is today, as well?

    Moreover, why should those interested in the concepts and theories (technologically driven or not) of information march in to territory already inhabited by so many organizations – compete with them nonetheless(!)?

    ASIS will not be "reduced to a Society for the History of Information Science," as you threaten, if it attends to advancing a field of study that is unconstrained by dictates of technology. Moreover, in a field where all too often the applied displaces the scholarly, the how kills the why (ceci tuera cela) and the wheel is reinvented as new, it is crucial that a learned society such as ASIS not become so hypnotized by technological glitz that we forget about The Information Problem, "how people become informed."

    ASIS has always had a strong interest in technology, as it should, but in the context of a broader research agenda. It is not so much the proposed change of name that should be worrisome to the linguists, the rhetoricians, the humanists, the librarians and the philosophers among us, but how our reading and writing might be drawn into framework overtaken by technophilogia. Information science must be concerned with the effects of technology, government policy, social pressures and a gaggle of other forces on the subjects of our study. But that is different from seeing the field through the lens of any one. Why not American Society of Information Science and Cognitive Science? Information Science and Economics? Information Science and Educational Psychology? All these bear on how people become informed as much as technology.

    The rationale provided for re-imaging the Society also rested on audience/market share. Perhaps size-of-the-club is important in some ways. But, from an individual perspective, a decision to elect membership in a professional or scholarly society should be for the right reasons. As an organization begins to behave as an organism, concerned for its own survival, its interests can diverge from members. Some are interested in greater emphasis on technological issues. There is room for that in an ASIS. Some are concerned primarily, if not exclusively, with technological issues.

    Allan Konrad, Student


    (To ASIS-L, Posted July 6, 1999)

    I support Dr. Garfield's proposal.

    ASIS provides an excellent – perhaps the best – forum for people studying and working with information. Its programs, the Journal, the Bulletin, monographs and annual review, its SIGs and chapters, all facilitate the creation, sharing and application of our knowledge concerning information and its transfer. In an environment where we see the splintering of disciplines, specialties and organizations into increasingly small units, ASIS continues to facilitate the creation and dissemination of knowledge across all groups involved with information.

    However, we also know that ASIS is seen as "too academic" by many. Practitioners working with information technology often do not think of ASIS as an option when they seek professional association memberships. For others, ASIS has become a second society; they have a primary society which is more practical and directly related to their jobs and then, as time and money permit, there is ASIS. By excluding Technology from our name many years ago, it is almost as if we divorced information science from information technology. In so doing, we lost a generation of IT workers who might have found a home in ASIS.

    In his 1995 book Information Seeking in Electronic Environments, Gary Marchionini wrote the following:

    We live in an information society in which more people must manage more information, which in turn requires more technological support, which both demands and creates more information. Electronic technology and information are mutually reinforcing phenomena, and one of the key aspects of living in the information society is the growing level of interactions we have with this complex and increasingly electronic environment.

    In my mind, adding "and Technology" recognizes this "mutually reinforcing phenomena" of information and technology. It offers us an opportunity to provide a more inclusive society. It does not necessarily mean that we will become an exclusively IT society – one among many. After all, Dr. Garfield's proposal does not eliminate Information Science from the name.

    Finally, if ASIS is to continue as one of the leading professional societies in the information field, we must have a better balance between information science and technology, which a broad and inclusive membership can provide. Without question, it is essential to our continued economic viability. But more than this, being able to claim a membership that includes scientists, technologists, developers, scholars, indexers, librarians, students and others – whether they belong to the .edu, .gov, .org and .com domains – is essential to our mission and purpose. It is essential to what makes ASIS unique.

    Thus, I'm all for "and Technology."

    Doug Kaylor, Head of Reference and Instruction, Wright State University


    (To ASIS-L, Posted July 7, 1999)

    Regarding the plan to add technology to the name of the association

    The emphasis of government programs, particularly those of the National Science Foundation, shifted from information content, dissemination and behavior to information technology some time ago.

    The National Science Foundation changed the name of Science Indicators to Science & Engineering Indicators in 1987, in recognition of technology. This biannual reference book ignores dissemination issues that once occupied center stage and contributed to the growth of ASIS. NSF folded up its division of science information about 20 years ago after two editions of Statistical Indicators of Scientific and Technical Communication. Today, any government-sponsored research into information is decidedly oriented to technology rather than content, behavior and dissemination. Its interest in knowledge and knowledge creation is limited to applications of "IT."

    The National Science and Technology Policy, Organization, and Priorities Act of 1976 called for a President's Committee on Science and Technology [PCST]. Staffed with, among other specialists, an expert in information dissemination, this panel was designed to consider "the role to be played by the private sector in the dissemination of information." The PCST was never implemented although the law is still on the books. Under an executive order, we have instead a President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology [PCAST]. It has been chaired by someone from Hewlett-Packard, an information technology manufacturer. Information dissemination, libraries, authorship, databases, etc., are rarely contemplated. In fact, its report on Research-Intensive Universities issued under the Bush administration never mentioned the libraries that help make this group of institutions unique.

    In my experience many of the technology associations, meetings and media exclude non-technology issues of behavior, economics and dissemination beyond the generous use of the wishful term "user-friendly."

    With that said, I think the change of name to address information technology and catch up with government research programs is long overdue.

    Albert Henderson, Editor
    Publishing Research Quarterly


    (To ASIS-L, Posted July 9, 1999)

    I'd like to add a bit of historical information to this discussion. Information science (at least from the point of view of ASIS) has always been intimately connected with technology and applications, dating back to when ASIS was known as the American Documentation Institute. In the January 1968 issue of American Documentation (now called JASIS), Hal Borko published an article explaining the then-current name change proposal from ADI to ASIS and tried to explain what information science meant. While his emphasis was on science, he also included discussion of applied aspects of IS – librarianship and documentation – as well as pertinent technologies. He wrote:

    Theoretic studies should not, and in fact do not, take place in a vacuum. There is constant interplay between research and application, between theory and practice. As in most every scientifically based discipline, the researchers form a small but vocal minority. The bulk of the membership is applications oriented. . . it is important to recognize that, particularly in information science, there is no sharp distinction between research and technology. It is a matter of emphasis, and all members share a concern over a common set of problems. (pp. 4-5).

    Thus the new name for the ADI that was considered and eventually chosen was American Society for Information Science. However, curiously, at the very same time a new review series was begun by ADI (ASIS). From the beginning, its title was, and remains, Annual Review of Information Science and Technology. I have never understood this inconsistency between the names of the organization, its primary journal and its review series. It seems to me that the articles appearing in ARIST accurately reflect the field of information science, at least as it is conceived by the totality of the ASIS membership.

    The situation today seems similar to that of 30 years ago. In the name of truth in advertising as well as consistency, I would support the name change proposal.

    Stephen P. Harter, Professor Emeritus
    Indiana University


    (To ASIS-L, Posted August 26, 1999)

    Towards a global ASIS

    . . . I would like to propose and seek your support in making ASIS more global by dropping the "American" from its name so it becomes Society for Information Science and Technology. The change will open even wider the doors of our society to include more international members and organizations, thus becoming a truly global society for information scientists everywhere. Your comments, agreements and disagreements would be most welcome.

    Mohammed M. Aman , Dean & Professor
    University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee


    (To ASIS-L, Posted August 27, 1999)

    Mohammed Aman's suggestion that "American" be dropped from the (new) name of ASIS is very appealing to me! It would present a welcome and clear challenge to the society to seek and achieve a more significant place in the emerging information world.

    Ben-Ami Lipetz


    (To ASIS-L, Posted August 28, 1999)

    Over the years, discussing the possibility with international colleagues, even in countries not particularly friendly to the United States, the answer was always to keep "American" in the name of the society. They felt that ASIS was international in spirit and becoming another international organization it would lose some of its strength – and its appeal to them. A major barrier is the cost (in foreign currency) of joining ASIS.

    Interestingly, this issue had arisen time and again within the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). The responses were the same within the international community. Some have started chapters outside the United States. While belonging to their national engineering organizations they also want to be active in an AIChE chapter.

    Irene Farkas-Conn, President
    Arthur L. Conn & Associates, Ltd.


    (To ASIS-L, Posted August 29, 1999)

    More than just a name change

    I fully support Professor Aman's proposition to turn ASIS into a global society, but it has to be more than just a name change only.

    Ahmed Al Sayegh


    (To ASIS-L, Posted August 25, 1999)

    Thanks for prompting me to respond to your item in the Bulletin regarding the proposed name change. While I completely agree that every possible step must be taken to preserve the Society, including a name change, I do not believe that adding "Technology" will accomplish the desired repositioning of the Society. I believe that other steps described below are more important than and prerequisites for a name change, if one is really needed. Without clearly articulating the whole plan for repositioning the Society, the name change in itself may alienate the minority of the Society that has opposed it and for good reasons.

    I would like to see the new name in the context of the new mission statement for the Society and the focus for the products and services that will be offered in the context of this mission. Together these will define the value proposition that will retain existing members and attract new ones. As you may recall, among the defining questions raised around the earlier name change debate regarded the implications about the editorial scope of JASIS, the nature of the Annual Meetings and the relevance of the existing SIGs. I do not believe that the larger agenda underlying the current proposal has been sufficiently articulated so that the answers to these questions are apparent to the membership at large. They are not apparent to me! Until a whole plan has been articulated, some portion of the membership will remain suspicious of the change and dubious about its possible long-term value.

    Branding is key to marketing any product including a professional society. And there is value to the current ASIS brand name and what it has come to stand for. The ASIS brand name is one of the key assets of the Society – maybe the most important asset. The other assets of the Society include the Journal and our relationship with the publisher Wiley; ARIST, ASIS monographs and our relationship with the publisher Learned Information; the ASIS Web site, listservs and our domain name asis.org; successful SIGs such as SIG/CR; and successful chapters such as NEASIS, and they all take advantage of the value of the ASIS brand name.

    All these valuable assets will need to be repositioned in the context of any name change. This will be expensive not only in terms of volunteer time, but also in terms of the costs for redesigning, reprinting and re-coding all of the ASIS formats. How much will this cost, and is this the best use of scarce Society funds?

    Gene, I agree with many of the points you make in your open letter to the ASIS membership. But at this time when information science methodologies and techniques are being adopted by mainstream information industries, I question whether abandoning our name makes sense. Yes, it is the highest priority for the ASIS Board to focus on catering more explicitly to the "practical, technological needs" of our members and potential members. For example, it is time that we

    • leverage the ASIS name to launch a new journal on applied information science;
    • resolve to compete by differentiating ASIS from other library and information science organizations or resolve to develop mutually beneficial alliances with them;
    • restructure the SIGs so that they become a focal point for discussion, networking and innovation around long-term themes as well as emerging trends;
    • enable the chapters (student, regional and virtual) so that they can truly embody a distributed, grassroots, networked society of researchers and practitioners who can share common interests and learn about new ones.

    We must stop talking about these things and inventing symbolic gestures. We must do something concrete about it. IMHO

    Joseph A. Busch, Vice President


    News from ASIS Chapters

    The Los Angeles Chapter of ASIS (LACASIS) planned its 1999 Fall Workshop for late September. Focusing on Compatible Architectures: Structures for Growth, the day-long event was to feature discussions by subject experts on how they are creating common standards, formats, processes, content and system interface for more effective Internet use. Among the scheduled speakers were Marjorie M.K. Hlava , former ASIS president and president of Access Innovations, Inc., and Joseph Busch, vice president for product development at Datafusion, Inc.

    For their mid-September meetings, the Central Ohio ASIS ( CO-ASIS) Chapter and the Northern Ohio ASIS (NORASIS) Chapter planned a two-site joint meeting on Distance Education: Challenges and Perspectives: A Panel Discussion. The COASIS site in Columbus was to feature Steve Acker, Ohio State University; Anne Abate, Nova Southeastern University; and Kevin May, eduport.com.inc. The NORASIS site at Kent State University (KSU) was to include Rick Rubin and Margarete Epstein of KSU.

    Bridging the Gap: Innovative Approaches to Providing Information Services was the scheduled topic for the mid-September fall meeting of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of ASIS. Among the scheduled speakers were Jill McKinstry, University of Washington; Susan Dumais, Microsoft Research; and John Matylonek, Oregon State University.  The fall meeting schedule also included a workshop on Metadata for a Corporate Intranet presented by Kelly Doran of Weyerhaeuser Technical Library.

    The Indiana ASIS (I-ASIS) Chapter met in early August for a meeting on Government Documents on the Web: Organization and Accessibility of Electronic Products for the Public, presented by Penny Kyker of Indiana State University.

    News About ASIS Members

    Michael Koenig, most recently professor and dean emeritus at Dominican University, has assumed the position of dean of the Palmer School of Library and Information Science at Long Island University. Earlier in his career he was associate professor at Columbia University and worked in the corporate arena at such companies as Pfizer, Inc., Swets North America and the Institute for Scientific Information.

    Jessica Milstead, principal of The JELEM Company, has moved her operation from Connecticut to Indian Head, Maryland.

    Peter Liebscher has been named dean of the School of Library and Information Science at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. He comes to Catholic from the Palmer School of Library and Information Science, Long Island University, where he directed the doctoral program.

    Amanda Spink, previously at the University of North Texas, has been appointed associate professor at the new Pennsylvania State School of Information Sciences and Technology, an initiative to develop an interdisciplinary program in information sciences and technology.

    Charles Hildreth , associate professor, Palmer School of Library and Information Science, Long Island University, is a candidate for member of the Board of Directors of ALISE.

    Danny P. Wallace , director of the School of Library and Information Science at Kent State University (KSU), has been appointed special advisor to the dean of the College of Fine and Professional Arts for New Media Programs at KSU. In his new role, Wallace will be responsible for implementation of the undergraduate and graduate New Media Certificate programs.

    News from Institutional Members

    The School of Information Studies at Florida State University (FSU) has established the Information Use Management and Policy Institute. The Institute's mission is to conduct applied and basic research in information use and policy and to provide evaluation and usability analysis of information services and products.

    Four top officials of the new institute are ASIS members. Charles R. McClure, Florida State's Francis Eppes Professor, is the director of the institute. Jane B. Robbins , professor and dean of the School of Information Studies, is the Institute's associate director for research. Myke Gluck, director of the FSU Usability Center, is the Institute's associate director for usability and evaluation. Bruce T. Fraser, doctoral candidate in the School of Information Studies, is the assistant director and managing research associate.



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    @ 1999, American Society for Information Science