Special Section

Conference on the History and Heritage of Science Information Systems: Background and Purposes

by Robert V. Williams

The Conference on the History and Heritage of Science Information Systems will be held on October 23-25, 1998 (immediately prior to the Annual Meeting of ASIS) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The conference will explore the history and heritage of the nature, development and influence of all types of science information systems worldwide. It is sponsored by ASIS, the ASIS Special Interest Group on History and Foundations of Information Science (SIG/HFIS) and the Chemical Heritage Foundation of Philadelphia. This is the first conference to explore this topic and should be of great interest to both historians and current practitioners.

The idea for the conference began when Dr. Eugene Garfield, founder and former president of the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), gave a grant in 1996 to the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) to establish the Garfield Fellowship on the History of Science Information. Dr. Garfield and Arnold Thackray, president of CHF, had established a number of objectives for the fellowship, including exploring the possibilities for a conference on the history of scientific information systems. During 1997, as the first Garfield Fellow, I conducted oral history interviews with six pioneers of information science, developed a chronology of chemical information science and developed ideas for the conference. A planning committee was formed in July, 1997, and enthusiastically began work. Planning committee members are Mary Ellen Bowden, Michael Buckland, Colin Burke, Toni Carbo, Irene Farkas-Conn, Eugene Garfield, Trudi Bellardo Hahn, Boyd Rayward, Marie Stewart, Arnold Thackray and Robert Williams, as chair.

The conference is also partially an outgrowth of the history of information science work that has been developing within ASIS over the last few years. Since 1991, each ASIS Annual Meeting has had at least one program on the history of information science, organized by Irene Farkas-Conn, Michael Buckland and me. Since 1994, these programs have been planned and coordinated by the newly restructured SIG/HFIS (formerly FIS).

SIG/HFIS was also the originator of an ASIS-funded project to identify and locate papers and archival records of the pioneering individuals and organizations of information science prior to 1970. This project has been completed and the information posted on the ASIS Web site (see IS Pioneers on the site map). SIG/HFIS also coordinated arrangements for the two special history issues of the Journal of the American Society for Information Science (JASIS) that appeared in 1997, edited by Michael Buckland and Trudi Bellardo Hahn. These and other activities have given significantly greater visibility to the history of information science and have laid the foundation for the conference.

One of the central purposes of the conference is to bring together the historians of science and technology and the historians of information science, two groups who have been working in related fields but have not had a lot of communication with each other. The conference will provide an opportunity for these scholars and others, from around the world, to interact in a setting devoted specifically to the history of scientific information systems.

The study of both the history of science and the history of technology are well established fields, while the history of information science has only developed in the last few years. ASIS has been the leader in the development of the history of information science and CHF has been a leading organization in the history of science and technology, with specialization in the history of chemistry. CHF has also been a leader in developing activities that promote not only the history but also the heritage of the chemical sciences. These activities include discovering and promoting information about historical resources, encouraging research, publishing resource guides, promoting popular writing, conducting oral history work, creating exhibits and taking other related steps that publicize the achievements of scientists.

The conference will explore the history of science information systems as well as the heritage of the field though

The invited historians of science and technology are Thomas P. Hughes, University of Pennsylvania; Timothy Lenoir, Stanford University; Bruce V. Lewenstein, Cornell University; and Robert W. Seidel, Babbage Institute. Michael Buckland, president of ASIS and professor, University of California at Berkeley, and Robert S. Hayes, noted pioneer of information science and professor emeritus at the University of California at Los Angeles, are the invited speakers from information science. Eugene Garfield will give the keynote address at a banquet on Saturday night.

The core of the conference will be the contributed papers presentations. About 18 papers have been reviewed and accepted for presentation, covering a wide variety of topics relating to the conference theme. These presenters come from a number of different countries, cover a wide range of historical periods and provide analytical assessments of specific information products, programs, policies and issues in scientific information systems.

Historically, the conference is very appropriate for 1998 -- the 50th anniversary of the landmark Royal Society (London) Scientific Information Conference, which is generally considered the first international conference devoted to the problems of scientific information. It is also the 40th anniversary of the International Conference on Science Information (ICSI), which had a tremendous impact on the development of information science in the United States. Held in Washington in, DC, in 1958, it was sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Science Foundation and the American Documentation Institute (predecessor of ASIS).

The planning committee for the conference is still working on publication details but the expectation is that all papers will be published in a separate volume of proceedings. Everyone is invited to the conference. For registration information consult the ASIS Web page (www.asis.org) or the CHF Web page (www.chemheritage.org). For additional information please contact me by e-mail at bobwill@sc.edu

ASIS Annual Meeting Preview

Conference on the History and Heritage of Science Information Systems
Friday, October 23 - Sunday, October 25


Robert V. Williams is with the University of South Carolina College of Library and Information Science, Columbia, SC 29208. He can be reached by phone: 803/777-2324; by fax: 803/777-7938; or by e-mail: bobwill@sc.edu.

Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science