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SSIRG Speaker Series: Dr. Alistair Black

INFORMATION HISTORY: A Subject in Search of an Identity

Alistair Black
Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

April 24, 2014
3:00 - 4:30PM

Union 181
2200 E Kenwood
Milwaukee, WI 53211

In response to the arrival of what some see as a new age, a digital age, historians have begun to study its roots, antecedents, and pre-computer heritage. The past is replete with the introduction, demise, and transformation of systems of information (not to be confused with the narrower computer-mediated world of information systems). The history of systems of information, which for digestibility we can be label "information history," is deficient in neither scale nor scope. Systems of information have played a critical role in major developments in human organization and thinking, including: the transition to, and subsequent evolution of, capitalism; the growth of the modern, nation-state; the rise of modernity, science, and the public sphere; and the origins and spread of imperialism. Given the momentous importance of systems of information in history, it is curious that the engineering and shaping of information history “as a subject” has mostly occurred in the modestly-sized domain of education for information professionalism. Yet information historians exist in a wide range of disciplines, even if they are not conscious of such an identity. This fractured identity is detectable in attempting to categorize some of my own “information history” research, an example of which will be provided in the form of the history of the staff newsletter and magazine in corporations and other organizations in the first half of the twentieth century. Such a topic could arguably find a home in a number of disciplines, something that prompts consideration of the future of history in i-Schools.

Alistair Black has been a full professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA since January 2009, having previously taught and researched for 19 years at Leeds Metropolitan University, UK. He is author of the following books: A New History of the English Public Library (1996) and The Public Library in Britain 1914-2000 (2000). He is also co-author of Understanding Community Librarianship (1997); The Early Information Society in Britain, 1900-1960 (2007); and Books, Buildings and Social Engineering (2009), a socio-architectural history of early public libraries in Britain. With Peter Hoare, he edited Volume 3 (covering 1850-2000) of the Cambridge History of Libraries in Britain and Ireland (2006). He was chair of the Library History Group of the Library Association, 1992-9; and of the IFLA Section on Library History, 2003-7. He was editor of the international journal Library History, 2004-8; and is currently North American editor of Library and Information History. He is co-editor of the journal Library Trends. He has recently been researching the history of corporate libraries and staff magazines, and the design of public libraries in the 1960s.

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