School Overview

Our history of innovation

Founded in the nineteenth century, the School of Information Sciences (iSchool) began by training librarians who established some of the first libraries in the western territories of the United States. The PhD program was founded in 1948 to prepare future researchers. In the 1960s, the School created one of the earliest classes in information retrieval. It started its premier online education program in the mid-nineties while other schools were still doing correspondence courses.

Our commitment to librarianship

In the twenty-first century, our School continues to innovate. We continue with the work that we have always done, educating librarians and studying libraries. While we continue to prepare librarians to create, curate, disseminate and preserve information, these activities are now just one part of our larger mission to understand "the future of information through research, education, and engagement." We prepare students for a variety of occupations—including business, healthcare, the arts, education, government, and international information exchange—and equip them with skills ranging from preserving manuscripts to storytelling to data science.

The iSchool pursues its broad mission with values that remain deeply rooted in the service ethic of librarianship. Our students understand not just how to use technology, but also how to help others use it and how to fit it to the real needs and ethical aspirations of a changing society.

We prepare our graduates to engage in work as diverse as helping first-generation students adjust to life in a large university; supporting effective management, curation, and preservation of data; and engaging in developing the earliest literacies with their students.

Our multidisciplinary, human-centered approach

Throughout our richly multidisciplinary school, we draw upon the history and philosophy of librarianship: We focus on access to information and understanding the information needs and behaviors of different kinds of information users and non-users. We know that information never exists in a historical or social vacuum, and we are deeply committed to understanding context: an understanding arising out of attention to the needs of both individual users and communities, and from asking critical questions about how and why those needs arise. We have particular interests in metadata, data quality, data provenance, data curation, and data preservation. We draw upon the history of libraries and ask questions about the long term: data, information and software use over the next year, 10 years and 100 years. Ink on vellum can store information for 1,000 years. Certain software can become unusable in 10 years unless extra care is taken. We are the people who worry about these issues and who create solutions.

We embrace the human-centered design of services and sociotechnical systems. This means that we embrace human-computer interaction (HCI) and the aspects of data analytics that focus on the interpretation and explanation of data for different stakeholders, and the careful consideration of how data can be used and misused to benefit some while harming others. This leads to our interests in fairness and equity in data aggregation and use, in AI, and across machine learning and data analytics. It also leads to our concerns with intellectual property, information access, security, privacy, usability, and accessibility—and the tensions between them. We promote a culture of service. We co-design and continually improve information infrastructures that work so well that individuals may even notice or remark upon them.

game pieces in a board game

Our approach is inherently multidisciplinary. We have developed processes, procedures, and policies to facilitate successful, sustainable multidisciplinary working. As such, we can serve as a natural hub for cross-campus, cross-institutional, and cross-national collaborations to address complex social problems that require a multiplicity of perspectives to develop solutions and confront unintended consequences.

Our approach is also inherently holistic. We consider who uses information and the technologies that enable that information use. We ask how and why people use certain information, and what they would really like to be able to do but can't because it is currently impossible, too difficult, or too expensive—and what we might do about that. We look at both the benefits and harms of information use and who gets the opportunities to be involved.

We look at information use and information production everywhere, so we are necessarily domain agnostic. We consider and examine information use in the sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities; by experts, researchers, and end users. When thinking about the end users of information, we take into account who they are and their life context, so we explore information use by toddlers, young children, teens, students, parents, families and the elderly, looking at information for entertainment, for health, for employment, and for myriad other purposes.