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Pratt Institute School of Information
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The following is adapted from Ian Post’s “Administrative History” (Guide to the Records of the School of Information 1886-2001(July/August 2015)
The Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science is the oldest library school in continuous operation in the United States, established in June 1890 when the Pratt Institute Free Library began offering organized training classes in library economy and cataloging. Growing out of a need for trained library staff at the two branches of the Free Library, which was founded in January 1888, Margaret Healy directed the library and its new courses in the basement of Main Building.
In 1890, Mary Wright Plummer, a graduate of Melvil Dewey’s Columbia Library School class of 1888, came to Pratt Institute to develop “skilled assistants.” The designation of the Pratt Institute Library School, Plummer’s appointment to director of the library and its school, and the establishment of a regular faculty— primarily composed of Free Library staff—marked a substantial change for the program in 1895. One year later, the Library School moved to the new library designed by architect William Tubby. The two branches of the Pratt Institute Free Library, which had provided both faculty and an environment for students to gain practical experience, remained in operation until 1903 when the Brooklyn Public Library was established.
Plummer separated the Library and the Library School in 1904, assuming the directorship of the school, but not the library. Under Plummer’s directorship, the school’s curriculum began to reflect the professionalization of librarianship and its name changed again in 1909 to the Pratt Institute School of Library Science. In 1911, Plummer was succeeded by Josephine Adams Rathbone as the Vice-Director of the library school, overseeing much of the administrative matters including interviewing and selecting students, reviewing coursework, and conducting the annual tour. Appointed at the same time was Edward Frances Stevens, who assumed directorship of both the library and school. Stevens, however, concentrated on managing the library. In 1923, the school became one of the first 13 library schools to be accredited by the American Library Association. Stevens and Rathbone remained director and vice director until 1938. The year 1939 marked another significant change for the library school as William “Wayne” Shirley was appointed library director and dean with Agnes Camilla Hansen serving as associate director. Furthermore, the school began to confer Bachelor of Science degrees, allowing them to award prior graduates with retroactive degrees. In 1940, the School of Library Science became a graduate school and the library was no longer open to the public.
The school began awarding graduates Master of Library Science degrees as of 1950. Between 1955 and 1956, Rice Estes served as the school’s dean, followed by Louis D. Sass who held the position until 1968. At this time, the school’s curriculum underwent another transformation under the new dean, Nasser Sharify when the school was designated as the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. For the first time since 1896, the library school moved into a new building on Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn campus. During the 1970s, some classes were held at the Pratt Manhattan Center and, later, the Puck Building. Sharify, who led the development of the field of international librarianship, worked to change the school’s curriculum from an institutional approach to one that favored functional, comparative, and systems approaches. Sharify remained the school’s dean until 1987, but continued to teach courses as a Distinguished Professor and Dean Emeritus. After 1987, the school went through a series of deans: S. Michael Malinconico (1987- 1988), Seoud M. Matta (acting-dean 1989-1992, dean 1992-1999), Anne Woodsworth (1999- 2001), and Marie Radford (acting-dean 2002-2004). The current dean, Tula Giannini, was appointed in 2005 and has shifted the school’s focus to the emerging field of digital humanities.
As of 1995 the school became known as the School of Information and Library Science and in 2002 the school relocated all classes to its current location in Manhattan at 144 West 14th Street. The school was renamed in 2015 to the School of Information. For a detailed history of the Pratt Institute School of Information and its curriculum prior to 1978, see Nasser Sharify’s “The Pratt Institute Graduate School of Library and Information Science” in the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, Volume 23, pages 145-170.
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