Sunday, January 20, 2008

What's in a Name?

This past week, I was in the Special Collections archive at UCLA, learning about the prehistories of digital libraries to be explored in the papers of Albert Boni, where I was thinking about analogies between contemporary data encryption and proprietary techniques of photographic miniaturization from the previous century.

On my way out, I noticed that a building that had once been labeled "Library and Information Science" was now "Education and Information Studies" on the campus, and it made me think about the differences in connotation between "Information Science" and "Information Studies" as academic disciplines and the way these discourses might also migrate from one of what C.P. Snow called "The Two Cultures" to another as recognized expertise shifts from the sciences into the scholarly realms of the humanities.

I'm certainly a strong advocate of Critical Information Studies, as it has been advocated for in the academy by Siva Vaidhyanathan, but I like taking advantage of the cultural capital that the word "science" has for many faculty members obsessed with notions of "scholarly rigor" who might otherwise discount the importance of ideological messages that are directly relevant to the work of computer scientists and other designers of digital architecture that only seek affiliation with the world of facts, of markets, and of physical matter. Given the need for common taxonomies in ordering texts, I certainly see the argument for calling "Library Science" a scientific field.

Of course, since so much energy was expended in the middle of the last century to establish "Information Science" as an appropriately academic discipline to be taken seriously by universities and governments in ways that specifically excluded women who had previously worked succesfully in the field, both in the writings of information pioneers like Vannevar Bush and J.C.R. Licklider and in the discriminatory practices described in When Computers Were Human, maybe I shouldn't feel so nostalgic about the term.

(According to the webpage for the UCLA Department of Information Studies, the program still offers a Master's degree in "Library and Information Science.")

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