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A Brief History of the School of Information Sciences

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Library and Information Sciences Education at the University of Tennessee

Library Stacks

The roots of the School of Information Sciences began in 1928 when the College of Liberal Arts launched an undergraduate school library media education program. The program’s launch coincided with the first national efforts by library communities to evaluate school libraries and draw up standards to measure their effectiveness.

In 1944, the program moved to the College of Education, which began the Department of Library Service. Following the launch of Sputnik in 1957 and the subsequent national drive to increase science and information literacy, the American Library Association completed substantive organizational changes, leading to the formation of the Young Adult Services Division and the Children's Services Division. Within a year, UT’s Department of Library Service responded to this national need for greater information and scientific services by reorganizing its curriculum and beginning to award the Master of Science degree with a major in instructional materials. In 1964, the university approved the MS degree with a major in library service.
In the late 1960s, prominent librarians throughout Tennessee and organizations, such as the Tennessee Library Association, the Southern Appalachian Chapter of the Special Libraries Association, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and Oak Ridge Associated Universities either passed resolutions endorsing the establishment of a professional library education program at the University of Tennessee or spoke in favor of its inception.

The university chancellor endorsed this idea, and in 1971, when online cataloging and microprocessors were in their infancy and a national information society was emerging, the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) was established and housed in the Temple Court Building. UT authorized the Master of Science in Library Science (MSLS) degree and allowed the School to hire three new doctoral faculty members and adopt a new curriculum.

Gary Purcell was named the founding director of the independent program and oversaw the first accreditation by the American Library Association in 1972. Dr. Purcell was a charismatic visionary who set professional standards for his faculty, inspired excellence, and worked to develop a nationally-recognized program. The School has been continuously accredited by ALA ever since.

From its inception, the School perpetuated a climate of outreach and service to the local community, regional and state libraries, and to national organizations. SIS faculty offered the first distance education courses off-campus in Chattanooga by visiting faculty members in 1972, beginning what would eventually become a robust distance education program supported by leading-edge technology instruction and delivery.

In 1988, the School evaluated and refined its mission, goals, and objectives to better reflect the rapidly changing information environment characterized by emerging information and communication technologies. As a result of major communications and information developments, SIS faculty members established the Center for Information Studies (CIS) in 1989 to complement the instructional and curricular changes with externally funded research projects. These activities provided opportunities for SIS faculty and students to develop closer relationships with nearby federal research-oriented agencies such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and with other federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Jose Marie Griffiths brokered several projects at ORNL related to data systems research and development, which created significant work for CIS and the SIS community.

In 1992, Jose Marie Griffiths received a joint appointment as director of GSLIS and Distinguished Scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Two years later, the School responded to the spectrum of new information needs by adopting a new degree program and curriculum as well as a new name – the School of Information Sciences.
In 1996, SIS admitted its first doctoral student. The School also began a distance education program using video instruction that reached out to four Virginia sites within the University of Virginia, along with sites in western and middle Tennessee. Continuing its mission of access and outreach, SIS offered its first complete SIS course over the Internet in 1999 and, in 2000, admitted the first cohort of students into a fully Web-based distance education degree program.

As an autonomous and relatively small academic unit in 2002, the School looked to leverage its resources and reputation by participating in the creation of a new college, the College of Communication and Information. That summer, the School moved out of Temple Court and into the more modern Communications Building.

After a decade of award-winning scholarship at SIS, Carol Tenopir became Interim Director of the School’s Center for Information Studies in 2003. Today she is the Director of Research for the College of Communication and Information and Director of the Center for Information and Communication Studies, as well as a distinguished inaugural Chancellor's Professor. According to a 2006 article, Dr. Tenopir is the most prolific author and one of the most highly cited researchers in the field of library and information sciences.

The year 2004 saw the SIS faculty forge a partnership and sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the East African School of Library and Information Sciences at Makerere University. This shared agreement encouraged scholarship on international information policy issues, information’s role in Uganda’s successful efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and collaborative research projects.

In 2005 Edwin-Michael Cortez was appointed director of the School and set to work with the SIS faculty to revise the school’s strategic plan and to set a new and dynamic vision for the School. Previously, Dr. Cortez was professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he taught for two decades.

In 2006, the School launched the Undergraduate Minor in Information Studies and Technology, a university-level minor. In the same year, SIS was ranked the 16th best library program in US News and World Report “Best Graduate Schools” issue. The School also inaugurated a partnership for collaborative cross-cultural leadership with the University of Puerto Rico’s Graduate School of Information Sciences and Technologies the same year. The two schools signed a formal Memorandum of Understanding that detailed collaborative research and faculty exchanges.
When the School’s Memorandum of Understanding with Makerere University was scheduled to expire in fall 2007, the School initiated a new collaboration, a MOU with both Makerere and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Information Sciences, to reflect their new collaborative research agenda. The MOU shared a vision of faculty and student exchanges, internships, intercultural research, and joint teaching programs.

In 2008, the School took over the administration of the Center for Children’s and Young Adult Literature (CCYAL). The School established a new board of directors and a new vision that promotes engagement on issues of literacy, intellectual freedom, and first amendment rights for children and young people. To continue its mission of service and access, the CCYAL will build consensus among its stakeholders so that it can better reach out internationally and build coalitions with other organizations and institutions that also recognize the importance of high quality materials for all children and young people. The Center will open a new home next door to the School sometime in 2009.