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  • Information History:Searching for Identity
  • William Aspray (bio)

The surprise and honor that I felt when I received the news from Information & Culture editor Ciaran Trace that she would like to include my article in this special issue were quickly swept away by panic. In this new introduction, what could I possibly write about this article and its construction that the readers of this journal would be interested in knowing? The longer, second half of my original article identified nine topics that I argued were underrepresented in the scholarly literature about the history of library and information science. An obvious approach in this new introduction would be to survey the literature in the years since my article was published to see if scholars in this field had paid attention to my exhortations, written about these topics, and engaged the scholars I cited. However, I had learned from Thomas Kuhn, who had briefly served as my dissertation advisor, that changes in the direction of a scholarly field do not come so quickly—after all, my article was published only seven years ago (in 2011)—nor do they typically come as the result of the call of a single scholar. Instead, this kind of change more commonly occurs when members of the scholarly community identify an anomaly in the work they are doing and recognize that they need to find a new approach to address this anomaly and make it a standard part of their new practice. Even then, the changed intellectual environment takes time to create; it commonly becomes operationalized only with the retirement of one generation of scholars and the replacement of these scholars by their students. So such an accounting is unlikely to show much change in the scholarly literature. Instead, what I do in this introduction is to present a more personal story of my intellectual career and the changes that took place in this journal during the five years following the original publication of this reprinted article.

The occasion for writing the original article was my arrival as a faculty member in the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin. As Maria Gonzalez and Pat Galloway have written recently, the journal had been housed at the University of Texas at Austin for many [End Page 69] years.1 Don Davis had edited the journal for thirty years (1976–2006) and shaped it into the leading publication venue for library history. David Gracy had taken over in 2006, and he was only several years into his editorship when I arrived on campus as his colleague and he asked me to write this viewpoint article for the journal. David was treading carefully with the journal—he was an archival historian in a library historian's domain. Being an outsider, I did not fully appreciate at the time, as David did, the differences between archival history and library history. Perhaps David believed that the differences in his archival history perspective would seem less consequential to the library historians if he asked me to write from the perspective of a historian of computing and social informaticist, a perspective that was even further removed from theirs. Anyway, it is almost impossible to say no to David, who abounded in a homespun Texas charisma, good cheer, and earnestness about his historical mission.

I had reservations about writing this article. In my first long-term job after graduate school, I was the associate director of the Charles Babbage Institute, the leading archival and historical research center related to computing. The history of computing at that time was a new field, and many of the practitioners were interested computer scientists with limited experience in researching and writing about history. We took as part of our mission at the Babbage Institute to "educate" these amateur historians on the practices of history and to boldly suggest a historical research agenda for the field. At first, being pushed into this limelight of advising the field as a young scholar was an ego boost, but I quickly learned that it was much more effective to lead by example—by writing exemplary pieces of historical scholarship—than by proclamation. I was concerned when David Gracy asked me...


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