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Dean's Notes: Fall 2007 SLIS Alumni Magazine

Photo of Blaise Cronin

The word informatics (variously informatika, l'informatique) came to us from Europe, as did the term "social informatics," which was, I believe, coined by a Norwegian sociologist.

"Social informatics" was first used programmatically in this country right here in SLIS, when the late Rob Kling joined the faculty and swiftly established the Center for Social Informatics.

Since then we've seen a School of Informatics emerge in our very own backyard and also witnessed the growth of campus-wide interest in the socio-cultural dimensions of large-scale computing. The Center, I'm pleased to say, continues to act as a forum for cross-disciplinary discussions on developments and trends in social informatics, both nationally and internationally.

Rob once defined social informatics as "the interdisciplinary study of the design, uses, and consequences of information technologies that takes into account their interaction with institutional and cultural contexts." Definitions of this ilk abound and most of us are familiar with phrases such as "the social shaping of technology" and "socio-technical interaction networks," which have become standard elements of the professional lexicon.

The current interest in the social aspects of information and communication technologies is to be welcomed, but we should not forget that the field of Library and Information Science has long had an interest in matters social and sociological. Just pick up a copy of Pierce Butler's 1933 classic book, An Introduction to Library Science, and skim the chapter entitled "The Sociological Problem." And then there's the vogue term "social epistemology" (the title of a well established scholarly journal), which was, in fact, coined by Jesse Shera, one of the doyens of the field, and Margaret Egan way back in 1952. In the understandable enthusiasm for the new, it is important not to lose sight of the past.

- Blaise Cronin, SLIS Dean and Rudy Professor of Information Science

Posted October 29, 2007