The Information Society and the Future of the History

W. Boyd Rayward
Emeritus Professor in the University of Illinois
and the University of New South Wales
My Text is taken from Headrick, 2008, p. 8
The Information Age has no beginning. It is as “old as humankind.”
but “in the course of history there have been periods of sharp
acceleration (revolutions, if you prefer) in the amount of information
that people had access to and in the creation of information systems
to deal with it”
This paper presents in outline an account of the conditions and the trajectory of
events that led to the emergence of what we call information science in the context
of the American Society of Information Science and Technology. It suggests that
we have already passed through at least two information orders or revolutions as
we transition 1st from the long era of print that began with Gutenberg then through
2nd, a pre-digital era following the Second World War and now 3rd, to a new era
characterized by the advent of the ubiquitous technologies that herald the “digital
revolution” and the creation of the so-called “information society.” As a result of
the transformative changes that are currently taking place, it is possible to see the
past as opening itself to new kinds of scrutiny. The argument of this paper is that
the future of the history of information science is best thought of as part of a still
unrealised convergence of diverse historical approaches to understanding how
societies are constituted, sustained, reproduced and changed in part by information
and the infrastructures that emerge to manage information access and use. There
are clearly different bodies of historical knowledge and research methodologies
that might be usefully brought together in mutually conducted explorations of
important information phenomena from Gutenberg to Google.
Three information revolutions or information orders as a
basis for reflecting on the future of the history of information
1.Begins with Gutenberg and his world of print and lasts for over
500 years
2. Begins with the Second World War, is still print-based and
ends in crisis
3. Begins with the Internet, the World Wide Web, ubiquitous
digitization and the communications transformations often
referred to as the “information Revolution”
NOTE: I do not argue that one of these information orders or revolutions supersedes
the next. Each builds on what went before, sits on but also reconfigures a
continuing, underlying structure of functions, systems and structures whose origins
can be traced, at least for my purposes here, back to Gutenberg
Gutenberg’s world of print
•Information expressed in and transmitted by documents,
especially books, journals, newspapers, etc.
•Epistemic, social, economic and political consequences of print
are immense and continuous
•Organizational structures and social practices emerged to
provide industrial, legal, and commercial frameworks for the
production, regulation, and dissemination of print
•Ever-expanding range of users for an increasingly complex
range of political, social, research, educational and
recreational purposes.
• as part of capitalist industrialised economies, development of
“information” markets as basis for regulating supply & demand
and determining product and technological innovation
Information Infrastructural Kinds and Levels -1
•Basic affordances
manufacture of pens, paper and inks, commercial glues
and sewing machines, foundry practices, printing
presses, typewriters and photocopiers; systems and
networks for moving goods and people by road, rail,
shipping and ultimately air.
•infrastructure concerned with the production, access,
management and use of information sources & services.
Industries producing and distributing books,
journals, newspapers, bibliographies, indexing and
abstracting services, data compilations
• Information systems to facilitate operational and
management activities in organisations in all sectors
Infrastructural Kinds and Levels-2
•proliferation and differentiation of reading populations,
•Institutions for education, research and information-based
learned and professional societies, universities and research
organizations, schools, museums, archives and libraries.
•Infrastructures at local, national and international levels:
Distinct organizational structures,overlapping memberships and
codes of standards and practices.
Fin-de- Siècle to WWI, “A New Industrial Age, a Second
Industrial Revolution” (Geddes 1915, p. 46). 1
Gutenberg’s technology of print seemed to reach an
extraordinary high point of development in the decades at the
end of the nineteenth century and before the First World War.
• A world of knowledge and information rapidly increasing in
volume and diversifying, fragmenting, internationalising
Leading to
•A Crescendo of effort & experimentation in the production,
consumption & management of print
Fin-de- Siècle, to WWI “A New Industrial Age, a Second Industrial
Revolution” (Geddes 1915, p. 46). 2
•Ever-increasing growth in rates of general literacy and educational levels
•Accelerating growth of scientific research;
•Most knowledge domains classified & named, natural &social sciences
adopted positivist scientific methodologies
•Organisational disciplinary structures established (national academies,
ever increasing numbers of national & international associations and
societies; increasing numbers of local, national &International meetings of
these bodies --the last often at World’s Fairs, an important characteristic
of the period)
•Rapidly increasing volume of publications- PRIMARY: books, journals,
proceedings, memoires, literary periodicals, newspapers ; SECONDARY :
Comprehensive national systems of bibliography, official ™
handbooks, indexing and abstracting services and annual reviews.
•Creation of “information”-related professions and professional
Post-World War I Information Slump 1
• Stagnation or discontinuation of many of the great nineteenth century printoriented information infrastructural projects e.g. International Catalogue of
Scientific Literature discontinued; Répertoire Bibliographique de Bibliographie
inaccessible after 1934; Concilium Bibliographicum and its publications limping
along on their last legs until 1942
• Almost all the bibliographies covering large subject areas or long periods of
time were immobilized after 1914.... (Malclès)
•The specialized bibliographies part of periodicals or had an independent
existence supported by scholarly organizations since the end of the 19th century
atrophied after 1914 (Malclès)
•The “constantly accelerating passing of the old order.” (Malclès)
Post-World War I Information Slump 2
How to account for the “accelerating passing of the old order “
Three main reasons:
1. Many Bibliographical services, especially those published on
cards, the new technology of the pre-war period, no longer
met their public’s needs;
2. Exclusion of German Scientists from the scientific community
and the impact of restrictions on German-based
bibliographical and other information related services after
the War especially
The International Research Council and International
Union of Academies
3. The Depression
Some Post World War I international organisational information
infrastructures new or reactivated
•1919 International Research Council and International Union of
•1922 League of Nations Committee and 1924 Institute for
International Intellectual Cooperation (inaugurated1926)
•1926 IIIC creates International Museums Office
•1895 International Institute for Bibliography becomes in1931, IID
and then in 1937 FID; annual conferences, systematic
publications,great interest in reprographic technologies especially
•1926, IFLA; annual conferences
Microfilm, Watson Davis, the Documentation Institute of Science Service and
the creation of the American Documentation Institute
1937: “The American Documentation Institute has been incorporated on behalf of
scholarly, scientific and informational societies to develop and operate facilities
that are expected to promote research and knowledge in various intellectual fields.
The first objective of the new organisation will be to develop and apply the new
technique of microphotography to library, scholarly, scientific and other material”
(Farkas-Conn 1990, p.77).
As Buckland notes: “The literature on documentation in the 1930s was as
preoccupied with microfilm technology as it is now with computer technology and,
for the same reason, each being the most promising information retrieval
technology of the time” (Buckland 1992, p. 290).
World War II and the Scientific
Information Revolution
The Argument
• With the War an increasingly intense and complex interweaving of
discourse, experimentation and invention related to the management of information
began to develop and accelerate.
• The post-war period witnessed the emergence of changes so extensive and rapid
that I argue a new information revolution can be seen as getting underway.
• Scott Adams observed that the war had encouraged “the greatest explosion of
bibliographic activity the world has ever known” (cited in Farkas-Conn, 1990,
•The new post-war “information order” involved librarians, scientists, engineers,
government officials, industrial researchers of various kinds and commercial
entrepreneurs introducing innovative systems, technologies and new organizational
arrangements for the management of information
Information and The War Effort
The requirements for information of the Allied Powers an important part of their coordinated and combined war effort. Between 1942-1945, it has been claimed that 5
million pages were copied and sent to Washington (Farkas-Conn, 1990, p.103).
Post-War Mass Declassification of Documents - Irene Farkas Conn: “The War Years,
then Information Turmoil.”
finding and filming documents useful to industry and medicine as well as to the military .
• “total take” of documents collected in 1945 by the U.S. Field Information Agency,
Technical (FIAT) at 3.5 billion microfilmed pages (Varlejs, 2004, p.90).
• In six months in 1945 the Air Documents Research Center had accumulated 186 tons of
enemy documents (Farkas-Conn, 1990, p.103).
•In 1945 the information the US Office of Research & Development had collected was
recommended for declassification and to be made accessible as quickly as possible.
•In 1946 the Office of Technical Services was set up to organize and distribute the mass of
technical reports that had become available after the War.
• An important example: In 1946 the US Atomic Energy Agency created; the documentation
of the Manhattan project declassified to be organised and indexed; The Oak Ridge Technical
Information Center began to publish Nuclear Science Abstracts in 1948 –world-wide
coverage, all multi-disciplinary, multi-format materials on peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
After the 1955 and 1958 UN sponsored conferences on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy
many countries released classified information – documentation now vast. Migrates to IAEA
sponsored INIS
The Information Problem
• Information in enemy documents and in Allied classified research reports of vital
and immediate importance
• The information aged quickly
• Traditional bibliographical and library-based methods of organizing and
providing access to the contents of these reports considered inadequate
• Need for scientists, engineers and others with substantive knowledge and
technical know-how (see also the famous Weinberg Report of 1963).
• New systems were needed for information storage and retrieval
Non Conventional Technical Information Systems
• Innovative approaches to indexing, classification and document retrieval
based on microfilm, aperture cards, various kind of punched cards, edge-notched
cards and so on.
•complex systems of codes for specifying subject content, identifying and describing
• Use of Mathematical representation and analysis of document surrogates (indexing
terms or descriptors) for system simulation and experimental research
• In the period 1958-1966 “nonconventional technical information systems in current
use” increased from 30 to 178.” These were “systems ... embodying new principles
for the organization of subject matter or employing automatic equipment for storage
and search” (the National Science Foundation’s Office of Science Information
As Part of New Information Order - Research on Information Use & Users –
The Idea of Information Behaviour
New Realisation that information systems and their technologies are embedded in
intricate systems of social relationships and shared practices of scholarly and other
• Information need, access, and use were complexly interconnected behavioural
• Information behaviour a subject for definition and investigation.
• Important to understand what information was needed by whom, how it
is produced and its production financed, and how it is sought and used.
Since the second world war, a huge literature on
• changing patterns of formal &informal communication among scientists & others,
• the social dynamics of various communities of information producers and users
• the impacts on these communities of various emergent or experimental systems of
information access and exchange
Striking out in New System Directions in the Post-War Decades
Scientists, engineers, mathematicians, linguists, librarians, physicists,
philosophers, psychologists, inventors, even some historians of science (e.g.,
Derek De Sola Price one of the originators of bibliometrics and scientometrics)
Indexing and abstracting services
Government agencies
Corporations engaged in government funded information research
Information and research services in industry.
A new Phenomenon – Personal “information” Companies
designed to market and implement the special indexing and retrieval systems of
their inventors (e.g. Saul Herner, Mortimer Taube, Calvin Moers, Joseph
Becker and Robert Hayes); Note especially Eugene Garfield, the Science
Citation Indexes and ISI
Some Post-War Institutional Infrastructural Developments
Individuals and organisations coalesced into scholarly and professional societies,
associations and federations; shaped new domains of information research and
• 1950s ADI had a “surge” of new membership and become a general professional
society; in 1968 becomes the American Society for Information Science
• 1947 the Association of Computer Machinery
• 1958 National Federation of Science Indexing and Abstracting Societies
• 1958 Institute for Information Science created in UK by Jason Farradane, Brian
Vickery and others
• FID and IFLA resume annual meetings, publications etc immediately after the war
• UNESCO creates a Department of Documentation, Libraries and Archives
• 1949 International Council of Scientific Unions Abstracting Board (ICSU-AB)
following conference by UNESCO on abstracting services in science (becomes
ICSTI, International Council for Scientific and Technical Information, in 1984)
• 1960 International Federation for Information Processing
New Personnel, New Disciplinary Backgrounds, New Approaches
•New players with a variety of disciplinary backgrounds
•volatile domain of information systems and management
• New theoretical approaches to nature of information, information technology,
and communication.
•1948-1950 Seminal works on operations research, cybernetics, information theory
and general systems theory
• Conference in 1964, e.g., suggested four different disciplinary points of view for
education for information science: systems theory, mathematics, behavioural
sciences and cybernetics (Swanson, 1964)
• Machlup and Mansfield in the early 1980s commissioned twenty papers for their
study of information & identified an active concern for information in at least 40
disciplines or sub disciplines.
Their Conclusion: disciplinary situation with respect to information was
Now so complex, for designation it needed the “power of the plural ‘s’, not
information science but the information sciences (Machlup and Mansfield, 1983,
The multiplying, diversifying research and development projects in this
post-War, pre-Digital information era traced a terminological trajectory from
documentation, to information retrieval, to information storage and retrieval
to information science (Wellisch 1972; cf. Rayward 1983 who adds a
beginning in librarianship and library science)
For a detailed chronology of developments during this period – as for those both earlier and
later – see Williams’s “Chonology of Information Science,” the section 20th century and
subsections for the decades beginning 1950-54).
Advent of Computers 1
•Computer industry in the early 1950s immediately seen to hold promise of
solutions to problems of rising quantities and complexity of documentary materials
•The history of computer use segues through a number of stages involving
specially- configured machines often with the word “calculator” in their names to
general purpose computers.
• Used at first to find more efficient and cost-effective ways of continuing to do or
modify what was already being done. e.g.:
Automation of various internal processing operations in organizations, SDI,
Searching by Chemical Formulae, producing print-based Citation Indexes and
other indexing and abstracting services, permuted single line (KWIC) book-like
indexes, or catalogue cards for libraries or, even (Horrors!) microfilm output
catalogues (COM catalogues)
Advent of computers 2
Emergence of database systems accessible through online search services, a form of
networked connection that was entirely new. Some issues:
• The writing of complex programs
• Negotiating commonly accepted standards for file organisation, machine readable
bibliographic description, data transmission across the new electronic networks
• Difficulties of interrogation of the new online services
• Specially trained personnel skilled in query formulation
• Special command driven terminals
• Emergence of the major online bibliographic search services : MEDLARS
becomes Medline; Dialog (Produced by Lockhead), ORBIT ( SDC) and others (see
Bourne and Hahn, 2003); also international services such as INIS and AGRIS
Advent of Computers 3
•MARC, [MARC as “boundary object” between pre- and post- digital eras]
Use in 1967 by Fred Kilgour for Ohio Center for College Libraries (OCLC)
• OCLC mirrors general development of computer applications for information
processing, communication and retrieval
• Importance for OCLC in the early 1970s of regional “brokerage” centers, the
bibliographic utilities
• Today OCLC, Inc. manages an internationally developed cooperative database
comprising 271 million bibliographic records; has major research and
development arm
Several of the major cooperative networks such as WLN and RLIN were subsequently absorbed into
OCLC. Others such as Illinet remain independent. Yet others such as NELINET, PALINET, SOLINET
and BIBNET have only relatively recently merged into a super-bibliographic utitlity, Lyrasis, created
in 2009 (
• The new technologies and systems had promised relief from increasing
congestion, blockages and delays of the established arrangements for information
organisation and dissemination.
• Derek de Sola Price in 1961 and 1963 and others (see e.g., Jean Tague et
al 981; Renear and Palmer 2009) revealed that the volume of information was
growing exponentially and as a result becoming overwhelming.
•The existing indexing and distribution mechanisms, the information structures
and systems that provided physical and intellectual access to publicly accessible
recorded information and to official administrative records of various kinds, were
• “Work arounds” such as, e.g., pre-print exchanges of papers and reports and
Garfield’s Current Contents weekly service of the collected title pages of journals
in various subjects; limited in scope; soon subject to the same pressures as their
parent journals.
• A sense of looming crisis.
Some Responses to the Sense of Crisis
• Governments, business, industry and the various research communities
increasingly alarmed
•1948 Royal Society of London’s Scientific Information Conference
•1958 the International Conference on Scientific Information in Washington
sponsored by the American Documentation Institute, the National Science
Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences - National Research Council –
papers a major conspectus of issues and developments for the time
• 1958-1986 US Government commissioned at least thirty studies and reports
(identified and annotated by Harold Wooster).
•In 1971 UNESCO and the Council of Scientific Unions proposed an international
system for world-wide coordination of the production and distribution of scientific
and technical literature, UNISIST
•In 1974 UNESCO Working with IFLA , FID and the International Council of
Archives developed the NATIS (National Information Systems) program in parallel
to the UNSIST program. By adopting these programs, nations would establish
systematically national information policies and plans that could be integrated
The Post-War Pre-Digital Revolution
•Simplistic but convenient to see a steady technological progression in this period
- punched card and microfilm-based systems,
- several generations of computer and networked systems,
- to developments involving Internet and the World Wide Web
• The new information order of post-World War II up to the period of the late
1980s and early1990s was still largely print-based
• All the Gutenberg certainties of print and its supportive infrastructures were in
• Struggle to use emerging technologies to adapt existing information and
communications infrastructures for the effective management of increasing
volumes of material appearing in new formats
•Major period studied by historians of information science as defined by their
affiliations to ASIST
With the advent of the Internet & the World Wide Web
in the early 1990s ...
A Third Information Revolution or Information Order
Digitisation and Globalization - The Basis of the New Information Revolution
•Radical overhaul and replacement of established information infrastructures
• See reflection in new nomenclatures -- neologisms --for new technologies, media
and functions, e.g.
- computers and the specialist terminologies associated with their operation,
-the Internet and the World Wide Web, the Semantic Web, Web 2.0,
-digitization, ubiquitous computing, ontologies, mark-up languages,
-E-preprint archives and institutional repositories,
-social networking, virtual reality, data curation, telescience and telemedicine.
•Transformations of traditional knowledge domains &information formats, e.g.
Ubiquitous Prefix “E”, E-commerce, E-government, E-Science, E-learning,
Post nominal “informatics” e.g., social informatics, community informatics,
biomedical informatics
Gutenberg Continued and Transformed
• All continuing information services and projects of the Gutenberg world of
print assimilated into the digital universe and their functions augmented or
transformed, e.g.,
- From library catalogues to the Carte du Ciel,
- Collections of digitised journals, books, manuscripts and archives,
- Administrative Records, the files and forms of government and
commercial organisations
• Massive, continuously cumulating data collections: astrophysical, medical,
genetic, chemical, economic, financial
• New tools for analysis and management of these new online collections of
print based or digitally born data in the sciences and humanities (for latter see
Companion to Digital Humanities, 2004)
Conjuring the New Information Society
• High-tech telecommunications, networked, interactive environment of personal
computing, digital radio, television and photography, and electronic mail.
• Small hand-held devices for downloading or uploading &sharing anything
-increasingly ubiquitous,
- increasingly multifunctional
-becoming ever cheaper.
• Relationships between individuals and groups once mediated by mails,
telephone, document reproduction techniques and need for physical propinquity
augmented or replaced by
- email, “texting,” online chat, teleconferencing, blogs, internet sites,
• New kinds of electronically-based communities and services based on
communications that are:
- instant,
-potentially simultaneous among many participants,
Revolutionary Slogans, Incantations and Activities
• Google, Google Maps, Google Scholar, Wikipedia, Facebook, Linked in,
Twitter, Flickr, and E-Bay
•In the scholarly community, WorldCat, JSTOR , Google Books, the Internet
Archive, and the Hathi Trust, and Access to massive, bundled full-text services of
journals and reference sources by commercial organisation and shcolarly
assocations; e.g., Elsevier, Emerald, IEEE
The University Welkin is loud with
A. Anguished cries at the frustrations created by the inconsistent restrictions, the
unreadable snippet views and the inadequate bibliographical descriptions
imposed by Google Books
B. The cries of joyous salvation at having access through Google Books to the
text of hitherto unknown material and being saved from long delays of
waiting for international interlibrary loans or the tediousness and expense of
Revolution at last - But What kind of New Age, Society, Revolution is it?
• Renear and Palmer (2009) have suggested that
- A revolution in scientific communication was foreshadowed in the 1980s
- It did not quite occur in the 1990s
- But is NOW
• How to describe it:
- A new post-industrial or post-Fordist or post-modern age,
- A new network and surveillance society,
- A new knowledge economy or new digital capitalist economy ?
- The next stage in a continuously evolving information society but
with changes of unprecedented magnitude, complexity, velocity, convergence,
and technological expression?
The answer to all such questions and other questions of this kind is
Reconfiguring Past and Future
“The flexibilities made possible by invention are not just the
obvious ones distinctive to an individual medium ‒ vellum or
paper, pen, type or pixel. They also require an extension of
thought, in that established practice must now operate in an
environment larger both in its conception and in its organization.
Conversely… new invention is inevitably judged and used
according to familiar principles. Printing is a new way of writing.
Computers offer new ways of publishing and sharing information
resources. Even hypertext, for all its much vaunted possibilities,
may be fundamentally defined as an extention (sic) of textual
comparison of a kind familiar to scholarship since Politian…and
others first worked to collate texts for the printing press in the
late fifteenth century.”
“the new drives out the old in more ways than just the
technological. It also drives our former assumptions of reading,
and the old structures of thought”
David McKitterick Print Manuscript and the Search for Order,
Earlier Revolutionary Periods or Information Orders Become Historical
Emergence of new kinds of historical study, related societies and their meetings
and literatures, e.g.,
•Histories of the Book and print culture – recent multivolume national histories of
the book; SHARP
•Information Science and Technology – ASIS&T SIG HFIS
•Computing and information technologies –International Federation for
Information Processing WG 9.7 History of Computing; the Charles Babbage
Institute (CBI) and research center; Society for the History of Technology (SHOT)
SIG on Computers, Information, and Society (SIGCIS); IEEE Annals of the
History of Computing
•History of Libraries – groups associated with major national library associations
e.g., In the UK Library History Group (now the Library &Information History
Group) of the Library Association (now CILIP) sponsors Library History →
Library and Information History ; Library History Round Table of the American
Library Association, with an informal relationship with Journal of Library History,
Philosophy and Comparative Librarianship → Libraries and Culture→ Libraries
and the Cultural Record→ Information and Culture
Some selected Histories of Information and Information Management from different
disciplinary points of view by way of illustration
•Headrick, Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century, 1981
(Part 3, the Communications Revolution)
•Beninger, The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society,
•Headrick, Tentacles if Progress: Technology Transfer in the Age of Imperialism, 1988 (Ch. 4 The
Imperial Telecommunications Networks)
•Cordata, Before the Computer: IBM, NCR, Burroughs, & Remington Rand & the Industry they
Created, 1865-1956, 1993 (2000)
•Chandler and Cordata, a Nation Transformed by Information: How Information has Shaped the
United States from Colonial Times to the Present, 2000
•Schiller, How to Think about Information: The History and Theory of Information as a Commodity in
the Contemporary World, 2006
•Black, Muddiman, Plant, The Early Information Society: Information Management in Britain Before
the Computer, 2007
•Headrick, When Information Came of Age: Technologies of Knowledge in the Age of Reason and
Revolution, 1700-1850, 2008
•Rayward, European Modernism & the Information Society: Informing the present Understanding the
Past, 2008
•McNeeley and Wolverton From Alexandria to the Internet, 2008 (“a history of six institutions of
knowledge The library, the monastery, the University, the Republic of Letters, the disciples and the
•Burke, Social History of Knowledge, from the Encyclopédie to Wikipedia vol 1, 2000, vol II, 2012
(Burke lists Histories of Knowledge; proposes for himself a next book: “From Gutenburg to Google”)
The Future of the History of Information Science 1
• Information related work of cultural historians, business historians, historians
of the book, libraries, computers and information and communications
technologies -- and the ASIS&T based historians of information science –
has little overlap or inter-reference. Separate worlds of Enquiry.
• How to find a more inclusive multidisciplinary approach to the history of
Reformulate the fundamental question: not what is the future of the history of
information science but:
• What is the future of the history of information, information infrastructures
and the information society? OR perhaps
• How are societies constituted, sustained, reproduced and changed in part by
information and the infrastructures that emerge to manage information access
and use?
The Future of the History of Information Science 2
• Ask and answer the question: Are there different bodies of historical
knowledge and research methodologies that might be usefully brought
together in collaboratively conducted explorations of important
information phenomena from Gutenberg to Google?
• Create collaborative relationships across the various historical
disciplines by Joint meetings? Joint research projects? Publication of
papers in non- home discipline journals?
• Create a mechanism for consultation with other groups to plan regular
meetings and projects
• ASIS&T in conjunction with other information-related
societies or groups convene with a jointly formulated theme an
interdisciplinary conference similar to those on the history and
heritage of information systems of 1999 and 2002

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