The School of Information offers the oldest Library and Information Science (LIS) program in North America. Its roots trace back to 1890, a few years after Pratt Institute’s founding in 1887, when it began offering courses in cataloging and library economics. Trained librarians were needed because founder Charles Pratt also created the Pratt Institute Free Library, which offered library services to the Brooklyn public. The library was open to the Brooklyn public until 1940, at which point public library services were subsumed in-full by the Brooklyn Public Library.
The American Library Association (ALA) accredited the LIS program in the 1924/1925 academic year, making it part of a group of six programs originally accredited by ALA that continue through today.
Early innovators of the School include Mary Wright Plummer, who was a graduate of Melvil Dewey’s class of 1888 from Columbia University, who took lead of the School in 1895. She was the second woman president of the ALA. In 1911 when Plummer left to direct the Training School at New York Public Library, Josephine Adams Rathbone was appointed vice-director, allowing her to lead the School while Library director Edward F. Stevens took charge of the Library. She also became a president of the ALA.
From Brooklyn to Manhattan
The School was run from the third floor of the Pratt Institute Library for 78 years. To alleviate space constraints on the Library and School, the School moved into a redesigned building in 1974—the Information Science Center (ISC)—which still bears that name. During the 1970s and 1980s, the Clinton Hill neighborhood of the Brooklyn campus—as well as many parts of New York City—deteriorated significantly, plagued with high crime and financial exigencies. By the 1990s, to better attract students and also allow them to work in Manhattan and take classes in the evening, many LIS classes were being held in Manhattan, specifically at the Puck building on Houston Street. In 2002, the School relocated entirely to the Pratt Manhattan Center at 144 West Fourteenth Street.
The name of the School has evolved over the decades. Originally called the “Library School,” the name was updated in 1968 to include “Information Science” and thus reflect this evolution in the field. The name evolved again in the 1980s to “School of Computing, Information and Library Science” after the School absorbed the Computer Science program. After, the School even ceased to be a school but rather a department within Pratt’s School of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In the early 1990s, the School was restored with the name “School of Information and Library Science,” and in 2015, the School was again renamed to “School of Information” to reflect the broadening of programs available.
The School of Information has educated generations of librarians and other information professionals, making an impact on the field locally, nationally, and globally. Beginning as a library school, the School continues to be committed to LIS, specifically through investing in its MSLIS program. At the same time, the convergence across libraries, archives, museums and galleries made possible by digital technology opens new opportunities for reaching out to new communities and further enriching the field of information.
For more information we invite you to explore the School of Information On-Site Archive and Special Collection, a growing collection of historical records and other documents related to the School's history created and maintained by students and faculty. Additional historical records are available at the Pratt Institute Archives.
Have information to share on the history of the School of Information? Please feel free to contribute to our Wikipedia page.
- American Library Association, Accredited Library and Information Studies Master's Programs from 1925 through Present.
- Brand, Barbara B. "Pratt Institute Library School: The Perils of Professionalization." In Suzanne Hildenbrand (Ed.), Reclaiming the American Library Past: Writing the Women In, pp. 251-278. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing, 1996.
- Richardson Jr., John V. "History of American Library Science: Its Origins and Early Development." In Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, 3rd Ed. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis, 2010.
- Sharify, Nasser. "The Pratt Institute Graduate School of Library and Information Science." In Allen Kent, Harold Lancour and Jay E. Daily (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, Vol. 23. New York: Marcel Dekker, 1978.
- Vann, Sarah K. Training for Librarianship before 1923. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 1961.
- White, Carl M. The Origins of the American Library School. New York: Scarecrow Press, 1961.