University of Wisconsin–Madison

The iSchool joins the School of Computer, Data & Information Sciences

The Information School (iSchool) has been part of the College of Letters & Science (L&S) for decades and was intrigued by an invitation to discuss forming a new division within the College. The discussions focused on leveraging campus strengths in information management, computing, and data science to create an interdisciplinary division for learning and research. Former iSchool Director Kristin Eschenfelder recounts, “Computer Sciences approached me about getting the iSchool involved, and they were interested in our expertise in the human and social aspects of data and information technology. We agreed to participate in a series of brainstorming meetings to identify areas of possible collaboration.” Ultimately, the L&S departments of Computer Sciences, Statistics, and the Information School decided to pursue those collaborations and become the School of Computer, Data & Information Sciences (CDIS). All three entities will remain distinct departments with unique programs under the umbrella of CDIS. 

Why did the Information School join in? 

Joining CDIS is an opportunity to grow and strengthen the iSchool. It will allow the school to increase the number of faculty, diversify courses for students, expand the school’s research output, strengthen national stature and ranking, and develop a leading undergraduate program. Broadening the iSchool’s resource base will ensure that the school continues to be a leader within LIS teaching and research. Current iSchool Director Sunny Kim notes, “We are making plans to grow in collaboration with Statistics and Computer Sciences. We are developing new programs while ensuring the excellence of our traditional program.”

What are the opportunities? 

Overall, CDIS fosters the capacity for more connection, conversation, and collaboration with colleagues in Computer Sciences and Statistics. Associate Professor Alan Rubel explains, “People in those units are concerned with issues related to privacy and security, algorithmic fairness, how big data represents (or fails to represent) people, misinformation, and so forth. Those are, of course, social problems with substantial technological components, and they are the kinds of issues iSchools have long grappled with. Doing so in concert with folks from other disciplines will allow us to do work that has broader scholarly, educational, and public reach.”

How does an ALA-accredited Master’s degree fit?

The ALA-accredited MA degree will continue to be the largest degree program in the iSchool and remain central to our identity. Within CDIS, we will be able to offer more courses on a greater diversity of topics for MA students. For example, Professor Rubel is developing a new course in Data and Algorithmic Ethics and Policy, and Professor Cat Smith is developing a new course on electronic health records. Both will be open to MA students. The partnership will also create more TA positions for students, which are crucial for recruitment. The iSchool will strive for continuous ALA accreditation and remain committed to the education of librarians, archivists, and information professionals. 

Dr. Louise Robbins, Professor and Director Emerita, shares her thoughts about the new school.

“CDIS should provide a platform from which the iSchool, even and maybe especially its libraries and archives components, can reach farther and stand more firmly. We have been a model for other departments in developing online programs to supplement our offerings and enlarge our teaching numbers. I believe we will continue to lead the way for our partners in how to engage with important social and cultural issues for information seekers of all ages, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and religions, as we have always prided ourselves. Our strengths will enhance the new school and we can profit from their skills in technology and data. I have confidence in the strong voice of our faculty to make sure the concerns we embrace will be visible and valued. I’ll be watching with interest.”