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ASIS Gets an 'ASIST' — Information Scientists Embrace Technology
Posted On August 28, 2000
The American Society for Information Science's board of directors ( has voted to officially add "and Technology" to the end of its name, making the acronym ASIS&T. The board had previously sent its members a mail ballot, which garnered a 70-percent approval rate for the change. According to Richard Hill, the executive director of ASIS, the name change comes after many years of discussion on "the best way to expand the reach of this information science society in response to the dramatic advances in information technology over the past decade."

ASIS has prided itself over the years on being the only professional society that bridges the gap between all information professionals operating in many different fields, and for providing the opportunities for interdisciplinary networking. Its members operate over a diverse range of interests, including artificial intelligence, database design, digital libraries, informatics, system design, and much more. The area of most emphasis in recent conferences has been information architecture. Many loyal members attest that ASIS is a key organization for promoting professional growth and development across the broad information world.

The society almost changed its name in 1987. The very same name that has now been officially implemented was proposed by then president Tom Hogan and voted upon by the members. "The vote in favor of the name change was over 50% but it wasn't enough to change the name under the society's constitution," says Hogan. "This time around Gene Garfield did a much better job of building a consensus before it was put in front of the members. I think it's the best thing that has happened for the society in a long time and should give it the right positioning for the future. The name always got in the way of new member recruitment. People who didn't consider themselves information scientists were often scared away by the name."

According to the history of the society provided on its Web site (, ASIS was founded on March 13, 1937, as the American Documentation Institute (ADI), a service organization made up of individuals representing affiliated scientific and professional societies, foundations, and government agencies. Its initial interest was in the development of microfilm as an aid to learning. In 1952, the bylaws were amended to admit individual members. Thus, ADI became the national professional society for those concerned with all elements and problems of information science.

During the 1960s, membership increased sevenfold as the problems created by the "information explosion" became of national concern and information science emerged as an identifiable configuration of disciplines. The membership voted to change the name of ADI to the American Society for Information Science as of January 1, 1968. Over the years the society grappled with the challenges and rapid developments in information technologies, including the move from batch processing to online in the '70s, the PC computing environment of the '80s, and the effects of the Internet in the '90s.

Unfortunately, it also experienced some professional divergence among its members, causing membership to decline considerably (though certainly other factors could have been involved as well, such as tight budgets). As of mid-June 2000, the society had just 2,510 regular and 762 student members, plus 254 institutional members (from the August-September Bulletin, In addition, ASIS has not been able to retain full ownership of its publications and has experienced financial stress and some decline in subscriptions.

Eugene Garfield, esteemed scientist and founder of ISI (Institute for Scientific Information), recently became the current president of ASIS. In his Inaugural Address (available at he reflected on the turmoil within the organization over the years—both in identity and financial status. He noted that membership has steadily declined, and that while some might prefer a smaller and more intimate society, the organization needs a critical mass to survive. Besides aggressive recruitment and program adjustments, he mentioned that one possibility could be dual memberships or reciprocal agreements with other professional organizations.

In his column in the April-May Bulletin (, Garfield confidently states, "I believe, as do the majority of ASIS members, that making the connection of information science and technology explicit, combined with new services and new approaches, will enable ASIS&T to grow and prosper in the coming years."

Hill also looks optimistically to the future. "This change is an important opportunity for us to take advantage of the new value being placed on information science, technology, and their applications. Anyone who attended our spring summit on information architecture was struck by the large number of new faces and the energy they generated. While change can be jarring, this is a time for us to reaffirm the core values of our society—theory, research, applications, and service. We hope to capture more of this energy in our 2000 Annual Meeting November 13-16 in Chicago, and in an expanded Summit meeting next spring."

Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

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