- Editor’s Note: It’s All about Information and Culture
I nformation & Culture has roots stretching back half a century to the launch of the Journal of Library History in 1966. In subsequent years, it has undergone various name changes in an effort to reflect the scope of scholarship in the history of collecting institutions, first as the journal Libraries & Culture (1988) under the editorship of Don Davis, and then as Libraries & the Cultural Record (2006) as David Gracy took on editorial responsibilities. The journal continued to evolve under the editorial direction of Bill Aspray, who took over in 2012. Then, as its coverage widened beyond the traditional institutional model of information to include work and leisure contexts where information practices may be situated, the journal’s name changed again to Information & Culture.
In each shift, the editors explained the need to reflect the times, the material being submitted, and the positioning of the journal within the disciplinary and publication landscapes of the times. Davis noted that the original title deterred the submission of potentially interesting work from social and cultural scholars who viewed the journal’s focus on library history as too narrow.1 Later, Gracy articulated the stewardship of cultural resources as best understood within a broader information field that addressed both institutional and personal collections and incorporated coverage of preservation and conservation along with administrative and organizational practices.2 By the time of the last name change, Aspray wrote of extending coverage again to every form of institution that not only curated but actually produced information and to all forms of professional work that involved information, as well as studies of everyday information practices in our world.3
The attention in such revisioning is often on the name change, but the more interesting trajectory here is the recognition of information’s growing importance in our world and the manner in which the growing infrastructure of information technologies is impacting our lives. When the journal was launched, it would have been impossible to imagine the type of information environments most of us occupy in 2020. Collections are increasingly digital and are accessed remotely by portable tools; storage requirements are no longer measured by the linear or cubic foot; information services are streamed on demand; and the volume of information an individual can access in minutes surpasses what would have taken months even decades ago.
But these changes only speak of information products and services. Another dimension of change has been the mediation of all areas of human activity by information technology. Billions of people have access to the internet and carry about their person or have in their own homes the means of accessing it. Our experiences of the world of news and entertainment are continually gained in part through digital means. We connect remotely with others via video technologies, and most of our jobs have required us to adopt information technologies into our practices and procedures. From medicine to shopping, playing games to planning expenditures, we live increasingly in a hybrid environment of the digital and the material. These changes have occurred rapidly and brought with them [End Page 201] a recognition that online communities and virtual experiences have changed the lives of twenty-first-century citizens in profound but not yet well-understood ways. In this sense, our most topical challenges are related to information and to culture.
It is my view that scholars wrestling with the social and cultural impact of information are not well-served within the existing ecology of information journals. Too often, and despite our best intentions, research is drawn to the new and the eye-catching, which in our space invariably involves the latest technology. This can be exciting, but it often leaves us with little sense of perspective. Since we know that all technologies have unforeseen consequences and that the human adoption of any innovation is a temporally extended process, a focus only on the new will only narrow our understanding of the rich context of social engagement in which our information activities are embedded.
Further, the pressures on scholars to publish often and quickly means that work that requires deep thought, consideration, and a respect for...