2022-2027 Strategic Plan

The iSchool at Illinois makes a meaningful difference in the lives of individuals through teaching, research, and public engagement. Our mission is to lead the way in understanding the use of information in science, culture, society, commerce, and the diverse activities of our daily lives. We engage in inclusive community partnerships, working beyond geographic boundaries to benefit the social good. We believe in the power of information to change the world.

Both the School of Information Sciences and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are known for innovative teaching and research that address global problems and improve the human experience.

Our vision

We use multidisciplinary information sciences to create sociotechnical solutions to real-world problems. We build a just and informed society by educating global future leaders.

Our mission 

People use information for analysis, inquiry, collaboration, and play. The iSchool is dedicated to shaping the future of information through research, education, and sociotechnical engagement. Our mission is to lead the way in understanding the use of information in science, culture, society, commerce, and the diverse activities of our daily lives—that's how we, and you, can change the world.

Our values

  • We engage with social issues through research and education, contributing to the public good and future scholarship.
  • We support academic freedom and encourage the broadest possible range of research topics and approaches, attending to the implications of technology for humans, both as individuals and as communities.
  • We embrace ethics, and we practice diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility at all levels (students, faculty, staff, and disciplinary specialization), supporting populations that are historically underrepresented in higher education.
  • We steward our human, financial, and physical resources.
  • We support work-life balance, including but not limited to recognizing the demands of elder and child care for all members of our School.

Intersections of inquiry and engagement

The iSchool encourages innovative research that doesn't fit neatly into existing categories. Our leadership in the field of information sciences is related to this approach and our interdisciplinary partnerships across broad communities.

Information in the form of data underpins vast initiatives, including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, data science, big science, and more. Poor quality data, poorly integrated and conserved data, and unacknowledged data biases can corrupt these efforts. Our research can help other researchers be more effective, benefiting the University of Illinois as well as other universities worldwide, and contribute significantly to international areas of focus, such as health, agriculture, climate, and human thriving.

The following topic areas demonstrate our expertise and our areas of strategic focus moving forward. We will:

The University Strategic plan notes, "As a land-grant university, Illinois is tasked with the privilege of service." The iSchool actively embraces the mission of service to the people of Illinois and to the world. This view should pervade and integrate our research, teaching, and community outreach. The results of our research into how people create, search for, and use information can and do inform and support public learning and innovation.

Continuing education, lifelong learning, and workforce development are core parts of our mission and activities. Public libraries have a long history of facilitating informal, personalized, student-centered learning for people of all ages and backgrounds. This attention to education from the earliest to the latest years inspires the iSchool's approach to these challenges across the University sector:

  • Demographic change is inevitable, and to a large extent predictable;
  • Soon there will be fewer 18-year-olds in the state of Illinois and nationally, and this smaller cohort will be more racially diverse with substantially more of its members self-identifying as multiracial.

At the same time there is an increasing recognition that we need to consider the learning needs of people beyond the typical age range of 18-25 that most university teaching implicitly assumes is the core market. This includes people who do not have an undergraduate degree and may not want one, those who may want a graduate degree, and those who may want to acquire new skills for career advancement or change, or simply to stay current with the latest technologies and ideas. The way in which libraries attend to lifelong learning from story time to post-retirement workshops infuses the iSchool's approach to an extent that goes "beyond lifelong learning to long learning for life."

In universities, our typical unit sizes of education are the multi-year degree and the semester-long course. Other unit sizes could be designed. Designing for the needs of students who have multiple intersectional diversities around age, race, prior educational experiences, work commitments, and family commitments is a challenge that we embrace.

Our impact will be magnified as we continue and extend our relationships with local organizations, communities and stakeholders—from libraries, schools and other nonprofits to hospitals and related wellness providers, small businesses, and corporations—that embrace the importance of information in their core business and commitments to the communities that they work in. One of our key strategic goals in this decade is to integrate different aspects of the relationships we build. Research partnerships, internships and other forms of experiential learning for students, and workforce development are potentially three facets of a single partnership. To achieve this goal, we will need to improve strategic coordination between faculty and senior staff in different parts of the school.

Research always needs an information infrastructure, whether it is a well-stocked library, an archive, or a data repository. Researchers need to share findings and need access to the work of others. As new fields of research open up and new methods gain traction, the needs for information infrastructures evolve. This applies to the extremely rapid international collaborative research seen during the pandemic, just as it does to new areas of applied quantum work in computing and materials science. We can help our fellow scientists conduct their science better; e.g., an oncologist may not always be the best data curator of their research output. We can help researchers at all levels to stay informed of a rapidly growing literature from labs around the world—and to discover productive interactions and insights from other research literatures.

Librarianship is a service culture. This has an impact across our School. Throughout all our research and our educational activities, we ask questions like "How can we help people to . . .?" This service orientation gives rise to our strengths in the analysis, design, maintenance, and evolution of information infrastructures, as can our expertise in metadata and data quality management.

A truly effective infrastructure is invisible, and therefore can be perceived by others as mundane. Some of the leading early research on infrastructure studies was done at this School by Bowker, Ruhleder and Star, and they noted both the gendered nature of status in infrastructure provision and the way infrastructures only get noticed when they fail—a finding we constantly see manifesting itself. Consequently, we need to be clear in making the case to others about how we can help them, and also about the value and legitimacy of our contributions as researchers and innovators, and thus how we need to be partners in order to help effectively. Multidisciplinary collaborations including the development of infrastructures help a team play to the strengths of the individual participants.

Although the name of the School of Information Sciences has changed during the nearly 130 years of its existence, it has always both studied and initiated innovations in librarianship and used these innovations to inform its ever-evolving programmatic and scholarly endeavors. True to this history and the convictions that have shaped it, we continue to study, support, and inspire twenty-first century libraries and librarianship and the ways in which those libraries are sites of individual and community transformation.

The iSchool understands and encourages libraries in embracing their role as hubs of community building. Libraries have long sat at community crossroads and have been a vital physical center through which many members of their communities pass regularly. Libraries support community building and contribute to the social, physical, and mental health of both the collective community and its individual members. In recent years, library professionals have assertively sought out new opportunities to contribute to community development: They have worked with their communities to host vaccination clinics, polling places, and ballot drop boxes, and they have collaborated with others to design activities and programs to encourage health equity, business incubation, workforce development, and technology education. These are only a few areas in which librarians have found opportunities to contribute and to lead.

We can leverage our School's heritage of innovation and leadership in community networking and literacy to engage in new directions for how libraries dynamically support and transform communities; e.g., through inclusive and open access to new technologies, training and community workshops, and labs such as makerspaces. The recent addition of the CU Community Fab Lab to our School provides a well-developed resource to support our leadership in both research and community engagement around makerspaces in libraries.

We have long experience in understanding and responding to demographic change, and we are practiced in enabling students to be critical developers and deployers of technologies to meet the needs of end users as individuals and members of groups and communities. This experience and tradition inform our engagement with the types of initiatives previously highlighted and are a key part of our ongoing work.

Increasingly, free and open access to information is being curbed globally and domestically. Large parts of our state, nation, and world lack affordable and accessible broadband and thus lack digital access to information. We believe and affirm that access to information is a fundamental human right and not just a privilege of technological elites.

Historically, the mission of public libraries is to serve as the conduit for a free flow of information to individuals. As more information is accessed via virtual means, and as libraries are not viewed as sole central purveyors of information, we aim not only to serve as stewards of trustworthy information but also as enablers of technological help given our rich history of service. We want to enable others to understand the changing nature of information delivery and how to access it themselves. We also want people to view information with a discerning eye for veracity and understanding of context before accepting that information as reality. We want to embrace the challenge of helping people distinguish information from disinformation and from partial and biased information—and from propaganda and PR spin. We embrace the challenge of how to best support continual negotiations around the tensions of access, control, privacy, confidentiality, ownership, and sharing. In addition, there are vital policy implications to which our School can contribute.

The capabilities of machine learning have grown rapidly in the last decade. It is now possible for models to produce paragraphs, images, or passages of code that respond to natural-language instruction. Since planning seems to be a harder task, commercial applications of this technology are often interactive: after a human user defines a goal, the model may propose various forms of assistance—from completing a sentence to suggesting a related source.

This interaction between human and machine intelligence falls squarely in the domain of information science. It fills many of the needs that information retrieval historically filled, while enlarging information retrieval in the direction of creative practice. For example, instead of searching purely within a list of existing images, users are in effect searching a space of possibility. As the importance of interactive intellectual work grows, we need to teach students how to reason about its social effects, how to critique it, and how to use it effectively.

The uses of advanced computing technologies are increasingly reliant on massive quantities of data to inform automated reading. Unfortunately, the nature of this information, where it comes from, and how it was collected, processed, and combined, in addition to what it actually means, may receive less attention than enthusiasm about what can now be done with it. We can apply a wide range of skills to help people better understand the risks of unquestioning the misuse of data and how to use data more wisely. In the ongoing excitement around data science, we are concerned that there is perhaps an over-emphasis on the "science" part (the outputs of the process) and a consequent under-emphasis of the "data" part (the inputs of the process). A richer understanding of the data—including provenance, processing and cleaning, flaws, and inevitable biases—can profoundly change the interpretation of the results. This prior work consumes a large amount of the time of activities such as data science, but it can receive less attention, care, and resources than it deserves. We advocate for the fundamental importance of good quality data in informing data analysis and machine learning.

Information science has a long association with the theory and practice of telling stories, including traditional forms, such as library storytelling, and new modes of expression and professional application, such as data storytelling. These vibrant areas of teaching and research overlap with game studies within the broad interdisciplinary field of narrative studies. The earliest video games consisted of interactive text without graphics, and narrative design remains a core profession in the game industry.

Information science has other convergent interests with game studies as well. These include design research and development associated with the fields of human-computer interaction (HCI) and User Experience (UX) as well as the socially responsible application of emerging technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, which are referred to collectively as extended reality (XR) and are used to create immersive games and simulations. Developments in natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) also increase immersion as they improve visual, narrative, and interactive experiences within digital environments.

The questions that scholars are asking about games, gaming, gamers, and the sociotechnical contexts that surround them explore the same entanglements of people, technology, and information with which information science is centrally concerned. Game-relevant research of faculty and graduate students in the iSchool and Informatics has included the co-constructed nature of storytelling, learning-based algorithms for galaxy formation simulations, histories of children's toys and play, adolescents' information-creating behavior in digital environments, the programming and deployment of chatbots, the evaluation of efficacy in war game simulations, the pedagogical use of games in classrooms, the design heuristics of social and professional simulations, the dynamics of knowledge creation in collaborative game design, the effect of video game design elements on the identities of adolescent girls, and the archiving and preservation of the digital content of game worlds, to give a few examples. Finally, researchers are asking questions through games, without being specifically interested in games. In other words, game-like, AI-powered simulations are increasingly being used as a research modality for data collection and analysis. The iSchool has important contributions to make to the design, development and evaluation of these innovative, game-like information technologies as well as to the study of games themselves.

"The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries—developed and developing—in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth—all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests." (sdgs.un.org/goals)

The recent COP21 meeting reinforced the urgency of all parts of society to consider issues of sustainable development, economic, and social justice. We owe it to future generations, whom our School educates and inspires. Increasingly, they will demand to know how what we do as researchers and educators contributes to addressing a worldwide crisis. The sheer size of the challenge can be so daunting as to tempt us to focus on more local issues at the level of our School, University, state, and country over issues at the level of our planet. As a School and University, we are committed to generalizable knowledge that can benefit all humanity. We claim that information pervades all human activity, and we are a school of the information sciences, so we have many things to contribute by a consideration of how information pervades all means of addressing the 17 SDGs. Doing so may require us to realign aspects of our research, teaching, and service, but much of it may be a matter of recognizing what we can do, what we can do to help, and where our expertise in the appropriate management of information can help others in their efforts toward achieving the 17 goals.

Moving forward

The iSchool at Illinois has a long history of leadership in the information sciences. Our faculty, students, staff, and alumni are known for engaging in cutting-edge research, being willing and ready to question the status quo, creating supportive communities, and guiding institutional excellence. Moving forward, the iSchool will continue to be a global leader by harnessing the power of information to create a just and informed world.

Hub Champaign Daniel building

Innovative. Inclusive. Interdisciplinary.

The iSchool at Illinois utilizes the power of information to develop innovative, inclusive, and interdisciplinary approaches to society's most pressing challenges.