Information Science

It is not easy to define information science. The Wikipedia definition is certainly broad

“Information science is an interdisciplinary field primarily concerned with the analysis, collection, classification, manipulation, storage, retrieval, movement, dissemination, and protection of information. Practitioners within the field study the application and usage of knowledge in organizations, along with the interaction between people, organizations and any existing information systems, with the aim of creating, replacing, improving, or understanding information systems. Information science is often (mistakenly) considered a branch of computer science; however, it predates computer science and is actually a broad, interdisciplinary field, incorporating not only aspects of computer science, but often diverse fields such as archival science, cognitive science, commerce, communications, law, library science, museology, management, mathematics, philosophy, public policy, and the social sciences.”

This definition comes from the Handbook of Information Science, which runs to 900 pages. The discipline emerged after WW2, probably as an outcome of significant advances in document management and information dissemination during the war. Those engaged in this work moved into positions which could use their skills, especially in the rapid growth of science and technology, even if they could not say where they acquired them. If there needs to be a founder of information science then Paul Otlet would be the prime candidate. Otlet was born in Belgium in 1868, trained as a lawyer but is now recognised for his work in documentation. However he never used the term ‘information science’. The terms ‘information science’ and ‘information scientist’ were first used by Jason Farradane in the mid-1950s in the UK. Although his initial concept of an information scientist was a specialist in the handling of scientific and technical information, Farradane pioneered the teaching of information science as a distinct subject, initially at what was to become the City University in London. The Institute of Information Scientists (IIS), the professional association for the new discipline, was formed in 1958; its associated newsletter, The Information Scientist, became the Journal of Information Science (JIS) in 1967. In 2001 the Institute merged with the Library Association to form the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. In the USA the profession emerged along different lines, initially with a strong interest in microfilm, again a legacy of WW2, eventually leading to the Association for Information Science and Technology which publishes JASIST.  Although there are many other academic journals for information science JIS and JASIST are regarded as the two core journals.

The topics that are listed in Information Plus are among the many that might be regarded as applied information science, though that is a term that is never used. Of them all information retrieval is probably the core technology. Because of the very broad nature of information science it is a challenge to create undergraduate courses and much of the training (for example in the health care sector) is specific to the information resources and needs of health care professionals. There are over 60 Information Schools around the world, many in China. Criteria for being recognized as a member of the iSchools  are not rigid, but schools applying for membership are expected at a minimum to have substantial sponsored research activity, engagement in the training of future researchers through an active, research-oriented doctoral program, a good reputation, and a commitment to progress in the information field.

Until the dawn of the PC there was a reasonably well defined community of information professionals, even if only in the UK (because of the Institute of Information Scientists) would these professionals regard themselves as information scientists. Gradually every one has become an information professional to some extent. However the assumption made by employers is that people will find out how to manage information for their role and for themselves without any requirement for training. One of the objectives of Information Plus is to illustrate the depth of research that has been carried out into the sub-disciplines of information science, research that when applied with understanding, could make a substantial difference on organisational and personal performance. With the breakdown of the information profession communities, a scarcity of education and training and a total lack of knowledge about the fundamentals of information science and research outcomes then it is inevitable that wheels will be re-invented and knowledge lost.

See also Information Behaviour, Information Culture, Information Management, Information Philosophy, Information Seeking, Information Value

Martin White

October 2016

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