1 Chapter 1: History and Evolution of the Information Professions

1.1 Introduction

The chapter examines the origin and historical contexts of the information and knowledge field. The information profession is one of the fastest growing areas and what makes it exciting is the continued conversion of related fields, such as computer science, communication studies, cognitive science, management, library science, and information science. Newly emerging fields, such as knowledge management, data science, data curation, and data analytics, are expanding the traditional domain of the field. The growing interest in the information and knowledge field has been driven by continued advances in communication and information technologies as well as the exponential increase of digital information. To be able to understand the future of the profession and what the future might hold for information and knowledge professionals, it is necessary to understand the past and reflect on the developments that took place through history.

1.2 Historical Perspectives

The evolution of the information profession has been shaped over time with key technological events and industrial developments. The paper was first invented in China around 100 BC. It took a while before papers reached Europe and different parts of the world. Papers were often produced in large quantities and, in 105 AD, Cai Lun, a Chinese court dignitary, created the process of producing sheets of paper using shredded tree bark, old rags, and fishing nets (Hunter, 1978).

In 751 AD, after the battle of Turkistan, the Arabs learned the skills of paper making and the first paper mill was established in Baghdad. Subsequently, papermaking spread to Damascus, Egypt, and Morocco. The Arabs improved the production of paper by using new material, such as linen and flax. The Arabs also brought paper making to Europe in the eleventh century when they conquered Spain and Sicily. As a result of this paper innovation, libraries expanded and flourished (Hannawi, 2012). The invention of paper enabled the mass circulation of information in different formats, such as books and newspapers. The manufacturing of paper in large quantities began in the nineteenth century when Louis Nicole Robert created the first paper-making machine that was able to produce a 60-centimeter-long sheet.

The birth of the printing press and the invention of mechanized printing machines using molds or preset templates revolutionized the publishing industry (Childress, 2007; Whibley, 1900). Applying pressure to the inked surfaces of paper enabled the production of multiple copies, which led to wider dissemination of the printed material. The first printing machine was invented in 1440 by the goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg that could produce 3600 pages per day. The movable type printing device allowed the production of large quantities of printed material that could then be bound together into a new media format, such as books and journals. The new printed products as we know them today together with the institutionalized legal framework for the protection of intellectual property laid the foundation for the information and library profession.

The real transformation of the library and information profession into a scientific field started with the creation of the Dewey decimal classification system despite an earlier work by Martin Schrettinger in Germany in 1829 and the use of the term “Bibliothek-Wissenschaft” in the title of his book. Dewey decimal system laid the foundation for information organization area in library science and considered by far the first systematic and scientific method to organize a library collection. The flexibility and scalability of the Dewey decimal system in classifying collections according to subject matter and disciplines made it the default standard for organizing collections for a long time. The Dewey system did not born of a vacuum but rather was built on earlier classification of knowledge work by Sir Francis Bacon (Wiegand, 1998). Melvil Dewey a librarian at Columbia College did not see himself as a traditional librarian but also as a librarian and educator. In 1883, he offered the first class in library economy and, subsequently, established the first library school at Columbia University in 1887. His understanding of the importance of professional organizations has led to the establishment of the American Library Association (Richardson, 2010).

The transformation in the information and library profession continued with the advent of computers and the computerization of information indexing and retrieval. Vannevar Bush’s article published in 1945 under the title “As We May Think” described a mechanized process of storing and retrieving books and documents with a higher degree of speed and flexibility. The proposed mechanized device would act as an automatic personal filing system that works by association rather than by indexing. The article to a large extent influenced the development of hypertext and the World Wide Web (WWW). On the other hand, Holmstron in 1948 described the possibility of using a Universal Automatic Computer (UNIVAC) computer in bibliographic indexing and searching (Sanderson and Croft, 2012). This was the beginning of library automation and the development of bibliographic information systems using fixed database fields that were limited to basic metadata. Later, Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) records as a standard format for the exchange of bibliographic information were born.

In the 1940s, Claude Shannon, who many considered the father of information theory and the modern information science field, worked at the Bell Labs and published a series of seminal articles in highly technical journals. His seminal “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” paper was published in 1948. Shannon presented a unifying theory for the transmission of information that could be applied to telephones, radio, television, or any other system (Zachary, 2016). By viewing all forms of information as reducible to binary digits, Shannon hypothesized that these “bits”—a term coined by a Bell Labs colleague—could be transmitted, error-free, even through a “noisy” communication channel. Bush recognized Shannon’s talents in a 1939 letter and described his 23-year-old student as a “genius.”

Scholars from different disciplines, such as computer science, natural sciences, cognitive science, and library science, found interest in information indexing and retrieval. Gerard Salton, first at Harvard University and then at Cornell University, started in the 1960s the first information retrieval research group. Work on this topic spanned three decades of intensive and fruitful work in the areas of indexing, storage, and retrieval. Luhn’s term frequency (tf) using statistical analysis of the keyword in a document forms the basis for many of the information retrieval theories and models. Spärck Jones in 1973 extended the work of Luhn’s term frequency to include the statistical analysis of the word occurrence in a document and across collections of documents. Spärck Jones introduced the concept of inverse document frequency (idf) which measures the significance of the term in each document corpus (Jones, 2004).

In the eighties and nineties, two terms were used to characterize the storage and retrieval of textual information. The term free text referred to using unstructured queries that first provided higher flexibility in formulating queries and enabling automatic indexing of large quantities of text over the more restrictive Boolean search. The term full text was used to describe the indexing and retrieval of a whole document compared to earlier bibliographic systems that were limited to bibliographic data and abstracts only. The development of the WWW followed significant advances information system in the nineties including scanning and optical character recognition, document management, hypertext, hypermedia, and multimedia. The development of HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and the hypertext markup language (HTML) have changed the way people access information using links and web-based search engines. The development of Web search engines in the mid-1990s have revolutionized the way people access information. While Web 1.0 was static and limited in functionality, Web 2.0 moved the Web to a different level using dynamic Web pages and real-time information and data exchanges. Enterprise information portals started to emerge by integrating diverse range of applications and providing single sign-on (SSO) access technologies.

Electronic commerce and the use of the web and Internet as a marketplace started with the turn of the century in 2000 and the move by governments around the world to recognize electronic documents and electronic transaction as legal documents (Tian and Stewart, 2006). This era is also characterized by globalization and the increased emphasis on knowledge as a factor of growth. The digital transformation has given rise to the importance of intellectual capital, intellectual property, and the wider concept of the knowledge-based economy. The advances in Internet and web technologies have given rise to mega technology corporations such as Google, Amazon, Netflix, and Meta (previously known as Facebook).

This era has also seen shift in library and information science education. In 1998, a group of US schools known back then as the gang of four namely Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Rutgers, and Drexel started iSchools movement in 2005. The shift was due to increase emphasis on technology, digitization, and the advent of the knowledge economy. The movement also came as a realization by these schools that their teaching and research programs had the capacity to reach a broader audience of students and the need to prepare professionals for work beyond librarianship. Today the number of schools has grown to more than 80 members around the world with member from computer science schools and management information systems schools. Some of these schools are also members of the Computing Research Association (CRA) and business schools. Many of the library and information science schools that joined the movement changed the name by dropping the word library or revising their curriculum to reflect the shift and the new direction of the iSchools movement to expand their presence internationally and to be recognized for creating innovative information solutions and systems to benefit individuals, organizations, and society at large.

1.3 Library and Information as a Field of Study

1.3.1 Library Science

The evolution of the library profession followed key innovations and transformations, such as the invention of paper, the printing press, computers, and the Internet. Throughout history, great libraries were built and destroyed. The Assyrian library, built in the seventh century BCE, contained more than 30,000 cuneiforms and tablets. The Library of Alexandria in Egypt is believed to have contained something like 700,000 documents. Bayt Al-Hikma or the House of Wisdom library in Baghdad contained more than 400,000 books. As war waged around the world some of these great libraries were destroyed or burned. However, following the Islamic empire, where science and writing were encouraged, and after the Renaissance in Europe, libraries started to flourish, especially in newly founded universities and academic institutions.

There were over 2,200 libraries in the nineteenth century. Nowadays, there are approximately 116,867 libraries in the United States (American Library Association, 2019). In the nineteenth century, there was no formal education system and the method of library science education was via “apprenticeship.” That is, students learned practical skills from employers or practitioners through shadowing those experienced librarians. In the twentieth century, library practitioners began to standardize their practices, so “librarianship” became more professionalized which formed the beginning of the “Information professionals.” Libraries are still extremely important in the twenty-first century. Libraries continue to play a transformative role in their communities—libraries serve as community hubs for local citizens across different ages and libraries play a critical role in nurturing lifelong learning for all.

Library science as a field of study originated from the “Philosophies of Enlightenment.” Thomas Jefferson and other American founders considered “libraries and information” key to the new democracy (Rubin, 2004). The nineteenth century was a productive time period for the development of tools for organizing information. For instance, the Library of Congress Classification, the Dewey decimal classification, and the Index to Periodical Literature were all developed in the nineteenth century and they are all still widely used in today’s information society. In addition, there were 2,240 public libraries created and the Library of Congress (LC) was established in 1800. The largest and most influential professional library association, the American Library Association, was formed in 1876 (Wiegand and Donald, 2015).

In the twentieth century, library practitioners began to standardize library practices. The LC began to publish catalog records to share with other libraries. In 1887, the first academic library science program to be offered was “School of Library Economy” at Columbia University and was founded by Mevil Dewey (“Dewey, Melvil,” 1985). By 1926, the Carnegie Corporation allocated funding to create the Graduate Library School at the University of Chicago and it was the first program to offer doctoral degrees in the field of Library Science. Offering doctoral degrees in library schools enabled more research activities and theoretical discussions to professionalize library practices and services. Researchers began to adopt and apply social and behavioral science theories to examine various challenging issues that libraries were facing. Between the period from 1923 to 2000, several reports were commissioned to review the status of library education and make recommendations to enhance library science education. Some of these reports include the Williamson Report (1923), the Wheeler Report (1946), the Conant Report (1980), and the KALIPER Report (2000).

1.3.2 Information Science

Originating in the field of documentation, the 1937 funding of the American Documentation Institute caused the fields of library science and information science to begin to coalesce in America. Early scholars of Information Science (IS) had a background in science and industry, and information scientists aimed to solve the problems of managing large amounts of data and information resources.

“Information Science” is a field that is concerned with information processing and information representation. At the heart of the field, issues such as representation (abstracting, indexing, classification, summarization, and extraction), information system design and information retrieval, system optimization, accessibility, and usability. Borko (1968) stated that, “Information Science is that discipline that investigates the properties and behavior of information, the forces governing the flow of information, and the means of processing information for optimum accessibility and usability” (p. 3).

The field of IS, especially in the area of Information Retrieval, emerged and gained rapid development mainly during World War II (Saracevic, 2009). Because of the war, a massive number of technical reports and documents were produced to record the research and development activities surrounding weaponry production. “Information explosion” became a challenging issue and it caused increasing attention from researchers to think out how to develop information technology to provide solutions. Information Representation and Retrieval (IRR) has been widely discussed among scientists in the field of mathematics, computer science, electronic engineering, etc. “Information representation” means the extraction of some elements (e.g., keywords or phrases) from a document or the assignment of terms (e.g., descriptors or subject headings) to a document so that its essence can be characterized and presented. Typically, information representation can be completed via any combination of the following means—abstracting, indexing, categorization, summarization, and extraction. Information needs to be represented before the “Information Retrieval (IR)” procedure can be implemented.

1.3.3 Library and Information Science (LIS)

Library and Information Science (LIS) is an approach adopted by graduate schools in the United States and aims to bring together people from the traditional field of library science and the newly evolving field of information science. It recognizes the interdisciplinary nature of the profession and the need to equip students with soft and hard skills concerning information creation, organization, management, and the use of information in all forms (Estabrook, 2010). LIS has emerged as an academic discipline that prepares students at different academic levels and eases the tension between library science and information science.

In 1984, F.W. Lancaster wrote an interesting article questioning the institutionalization of the profession and the use of the word “library” to describe the profession. He stated that institutionalization even reflected the names of our professional societies. He added we speak of “library associations” rather than “librarian associations” and “library schools” rather than “librarian schools.” Lancaster (1984) cited a paper by Giuliano in 1969 where he pointed out that if the medical profession education is modeled on the library profession education, doctors working in the hospital would be called “hospitalarians” rather than physicians.

Since then, the debate about the use of the library as an institution or as a building has continued to attract attention. This is largely due to the conversion of many disciplines into the information profession, such as library science, computer science, communication sciences, cognitive science, and business. Meanwhile, it is a research domain in both industry and academia that focuses on investigating the interactions among three core areas—“Information,” “Technology,” and “People.” A major motivation of a series of dynamic research activities behind these three areas is to make information easily accessible and usable for end users (Dewey, 1985).

As an academic discipline, LIS is a relatively young field of study. It began in the 1960s and early 1970s, even though it is rooted in the nineteenth century (Estabrook, 2010). LIS lies at the intersection of “Library Science,” “Information Science,’’ and “Communication” (Rubin, 2004). After the 1980s, LIS is characterized as a “user-centered” discipline (Usman, 2015). In the 1980s, there was a “paradigm shift” in the field of LIS which was from a “bibliographic-centered” to a “client-centered” (Ramzan, 2020). That is, a shift from the “housekeeping” perspective to the “user of information” perspective. A central value of the “housekeeping” perspective is about the acquisition, collection, organization, storage, resources, and technology facilities in different library settings. Its dominant concern is about “’size”—the “size” of “building,” “staff,” “collection,” “budget,” etc. After moving to the “user-centered” era, what LIS professionals were most concerned with is not merely for “information artifacts” (data, reports, books, videos, and museum objects), but also the social and technological systems that make recorded knowledge available and useful for people who want and need them. The examples of “social systems” include rules and policies related to licensing procedures, intellectual property rights, code of ethics and conduct of the information society, etc. The examples of “technical systems” refer to various cataloging, classification, IR systems, content management systems, and so on.

LIS theory and research converged over the last 40 years of the twentieth century. In the 1960s, federal funding for doctoral studies in LIS and for research in LIS increased dramatically, especially after the 1990s. The National Science Foundation launched the “Digital Library Initiatives” which greatly supported the expansion of the domain of LIS and provided strong incentives for other disciplines to investigate problems in LIS (Paepcke et al., 2005; National Science Foundation, 2002). In 2005, an important professional organization iSchool caucus was formed and approximately 70 institutions joined this iCaucus. The mission of an iSchool is to advance the information science field as an academic area of study and professional preparation in the intersection of technology, information, and people. Thus, the role of information professions in the twenty-first century (an information society) is continuously evolving, changing, and developing. During the pandemic time period, the significance of the information profession has been reflected in various dimensions and ways.

1.3.4 Communication Studies

Communication is the field in which people use messages to generate meanings within and across various contexts, cultures, channels, and media. This discipline studies the effective and ethical practice of human communication (Saracevic, 1995). Estabrook (2010) pointed out that certain aspects of the field of communication are related to some facets of “Library Science” and “Information Science.” For instance, communication plays an important role in library services since librarians need to communicate with users instead of merely preserving materials. In 1955, the Western Reserve University established the center for “Documentation and Communication Research.” The naming of this research center demonstrates the convergence between “information science” and “communication.” LIS scholars applied similar research methods (e.g., empirical studies, hypothesis testing) as those implemented in the field of modern communication. Some common research topics addressed by researchers in these three domains include human interaction with communication technology, diffusion of innovations, information seeking behavior, information systems, and the information society (Saracevic, 1995).

1.4 Conclusion

The transformation of library science education over the years has been shaped by the need to provide services to a diverse group of people with different needs and different subject backgrounds. The transformation of the library science and information science profession is resulting in more disciplines emerging and converging at the same time. The recent development in newly related fields, such as data science, data analytics, data curation, and knowledge management, can be seen as emerging and growing disciplines. These disciplines are also converging at the same time in the wider concept of the information and knowledge domain.


Discussion Questions

  • Discuss the convergence of library science and information science highlighting the similarity and generating new synergies.
  • To what extent is library science considered a practitioner field rather than a scientific one?
  • Identify one discipline that has the most influence on the library and information science profession.
  • Melvil Dewey is considered one of the pioneers in the field of library science; identify one other pioneer that left a big impact on the field of information science.
  • What was the first school in the United States to change its name to library and information science?
  • Discuss the relationship between library science, information science, and computer science.
  • How do you relate your previous academic training to the information and knowledge professions?


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