Fresh from approving the latest additions to the iSchool community (59 now) and having already marked out 10th conference in Berlin earlier this year, the iSchool movement might be considered a success on all normal measures. Of course, having new members now whose faculty members a decade ago were somewhat dismissive of the whole movement is certainly one other measure of maturity, I suppose. More impressive, to me at least, is the sense that new schools are being created, not just re-badged. To this end, there are plans at the University of Arizona to create a new iSchool which I learned about earlier this year. That process is ongoing but I was particularly intrigued to see the announcement this morning that University of Colorado-Boulder was creating a new college, for the first time in decades, that certainly has iSchool credentials: the new College of Media, Communication and Information. Of course, I prefer a simpler name than one that strives not to exclude any existing community by piling them into one long monicker, but let’s not quibble (they could have added a few more given the planned departmental structure!). The call for a new dean speaks directly to the need for interdisciplinary collaboration across it’s departmental units and an integrated curriculum as a hallmark of the new college. It’s rare to see new colleges formed but in this field, Indiana and Penn State have done it well. Given the units involved, I have every expectation that the Boulder initiative will offer a program of similar impact in due course, though the noticeable absence of any computational group suggests this program might not be like any other to date.
Perhaps more seriously, the connections between communications and information schools is one to consider. There are several such colleges in the US, formed through mergers motivated by efficiencies rather than intellectual synergies, and it must prove somewhat comforting to university administrators to lump smaller independent units into larger singletons when finances are tight. However, while communications and information might appear natural bedfellows on some measures, there are some very real differences and both academic traditions are themselves somewhat odd entities often originally created from the assemblage of even smaller academic programs in previous, resource-challenged times. If the barriers between communications and information scholars are fading, the question to ask is if this is a process that evolves from natural scholarly advances in our theories and methods for addressing human activities in the 21st century or if this is more often a sign that on the surface, these areas look so alike to administrators that they might as well lump them together. One suspects there are strong views on either side, but we rarely hear them expressed, at least publicly. And for what it’s worth, don’t imagine I think that only one of these routes is the appropriate path – sometimes just putting groups together can have real and previously unimagined benefits if handled appropriately. We shall see. In the meantime, I recommend everyone reads Andrew Abbott’s Chaos of Disciplines and applies those insights to the information field.