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Policy Implications of Education Informatics

by Jo Ann Carr & Nancy P. O'Brien - 2010

Background/Context: This concluding article identifies the policy implications of education informatics and explores impacts of current copyright laws, legislative structures, publishing practices, and education organizations. Synthesizing the discussions in the preceding articles, this article highlights the importance of designing information systems to promote open access to information in order to support scholarly communications and provide for the application of scholarship to practice within the field of education. Specific steps are proposed to further advance education informatics and to anchor it within constantly changing technologies in order to address pedagogical, curricular, and policy issues within education.

Purpose: This article is designed to propose future directions for the development of the field of education informatics and promote additional research.

Research Design: Information in this article is based on a brief literature review and an analysis of the interrelated implications of the articles in this issue for policy development in education informatics.

Conclusions: Although education informatics as a term has been used since at least 1980, there is limited literature about this term. This lack of discussion about the integration of education informatics principles and content in copyright and other legislation, in formal education, and in information dissemination practices indicates that education informatics has had little impact as a field of study within the discipline of education. Policy changes at the federal and state government levels and within educational organizations and associations will be needed to promote the development of education informatics as a core part of the discipline of education. Full development of the field of education informatics will require diverse policy changes by multiple audiences. One specific policy change that will be needed is strengthening collaborative copyright as part of the Copyright Commons. This and other changes should focus on improving access to current and historical education literature from both formal and informal channels for scholarly, practitioner, community, and policy audiences. Additionally, schools and colleges of education should create programs of study in education informatics. Consideration of user needs and mobile access to information should drive policy changes in the organization of classrooms, learning, and teacher educator programs. Most of all, policy changes need leadership that is guided by a commitment to the alignment of federal, state, regional, and local data distribution and to the creation of partnerships to align policy with practice and a vision of the role of education informatics in the discipline and practice of education.

Within its many definitions, education informatics offers the field of education an enhanced management system to record, track, and retrieve information relevant to educators, scholars, and other stakeholders. Early references to education informatics date back to the 1980s (Hebenstreit, 1986; UNESCO, 1986) and often blend information technology and information science in general rather than specifically within the discipline of education. In Europe, informatics is a term often used alternatively with information technology. Within the context of this article, education informatics has the specific meaning of technology used to identify, organize, and distribute information in the field of education.

The authors propose a series of strategies to improve access to education information using long-recognized systems such as the ERIC database, with its focus on difficult-to-find literature, as well as mainstreamed published education literature, and recommending advances in technology to create new pathways to finding and using education information. This proposal will take into consideration the variety of interactive Web-based technologies now available, such as wikis, blogs, and other collaborative environments, as well as the yet-to-be-unveiled technologies that will affect the future. By keeping education at the forefront of new technologies, those most in need of education information will be able to access it in the medium that is most convenient or comfortable for the individual.

While looking to the future needs of practitioners, policy makers, and researchers, we will also consider the importance of access to historical materials in education in a convenient format. As can be noted in many fields, the policies and programs promoted by government agencies and professional associations often have a cyclical aspect. Whether it is “back to basics” or “No Child Left Behind,” the topics and policy issues within education seem to resurface periodically. By creating mechanisms to make older material available electronically, interested stakeholders can locate relevant information when planning the future. Technical data on reading from the 1980s, for example, may still hold relevance in the present.

In addition to using new technologies for dissemination of education information, it is important to address practical concerns of parents, educators, and others. The research information is critically important to policy makers, and it is also crucial to those who have to make choices in the best interests of their children. Education informatics can help provide that information in easily consumable forms at all levels of reading and technological literacy. One of the main thrusts of this proposal emphasizes accessibility, in every sense of the word, of education information.

These new technologies for dissemination also afford new concepts of authorship. In a Web 2.0 environment, authorship is being redefined into a more distributed model. As demonstrated by Wikipedia, authorship is ascribed to the one who originates the idea and text, but also to those who provide editorial changes, cite additional resources, and bring added perspectives to the original piece. These technologies also support collaborative writing in which partnerships are not restricted by geography, individual consent, prior knowledge of the other writers, or a defined credential held by coauthors. Thus, this proposal also recognizes new environments and practices in authorship.

To date, the efforts to develop a field of education informatics have been scattered and disconnected. Articles about education informatics have appeared in the field for two decades (Hebenstreit et al., 1992; Khvilon, 1997; Stewart, 2000) but have not resulted in significant programs, as has been the outcome in the health and allied fields. Collins and Weiner (2010) suggest that following recommendations, such as those proposed by Klein (1996), to establish an interdisciplinary research center would validate the field of education informatics. Their article includes a number of specific proposals to create an education informatics program that would meet needs of current and future stakeholders. The policies that would have to be put into place at the national and possibly international levels entail a great deal of consultation and modification of current practices in information collection and dissemination. As the articles in this issue of Teachers College Record suggest, the benefits of education informatics make those efforts worthwhile. These benefits include standardization (Collins & Weiner), personalization and customization of information access and curriculum development (Farmer, 2010; McFarland & Klopfer, 2010; Squire, 2010; Wright, 2010), collaborative development of a system for authorship and access to information (Furlough, 2010), and a new understanding of the interrelationships among privacy, ownership, copyright, access, and collaboration (McLendon & Hearn, 2010).


Education informatics can be defined in a number of ways. Wikipedia (2008) defined informatics as “the science of information, the practice of information processing, and the engineering of information systems.” When applied to a discipline such as education, “it denotes the specialization of informatics to the management and processing of data, information and knowledge in the named discipline, and the incorporation of informatic concepts and theories to enrich the other discipline.” According to Philippa Levy and her colleagues, “Educational informatics is located at the intersection of three broad disciplines: information science, education and computer science” (Levy et al., 2003, p. 2).

In reviewing the literature, articles dating back to the 1980s that address education informatics can readily be found. However, many of these articles deal with informatics education rather than the implementation of informatics within the field of education. One brief article from 1995, “Spreading Informatics in Educational Technology,” supports the use of pedagogical and educational technology in teacher training programs (Hauser & Kis-Toth, 1995). In 1997, UNESCO published a number of articles in its journal Prospects that related to new technologies in education (Khvilon, 1997; Kinelev, 1997; “New Technologies in Education,” 1997). Most of these articles focused on the benefits of technology in the classroom rather than proposing policies for education informatics. Nigel Ford (2005) proposed a Web-based support system for learners in his exploration of conversational information systems that envisions embedding new technologies in learning situations as a form of pedagogical support. Although the interest in education informatics is evident, there is no clear movement that brings these various ideas together.

In addition to defining the meaning of informatics within individual disciplines, others have explored the organization of informatics. Kalman (1978) presented a structural organization of informatics with subcategories of macroinformatics and microinformatics. “Microinformatics is a set of disciplines within informatics dealing with individual data and information flows within each system” (Kalman, p. 229). “Macroinformatics . . . is a set of disciplines dealing with aggregated flows of data and systems” (p. 230). This structure has relevance to the SPINE information system outlined by McFarland and Klopfer (2010) and to issues of open access.

The impact of education informatics on education has been explored in terms of a field of study (Stewart, 2000) and in curriculum development (Magenheim, Schulte, & Scheel, 2002; Marshall, 1993). Stewart encouraged education to focus on studying information science within the discipline of education, noting that past efforts have led to a “strong informatics practice, rather than a formalized field of inquiry.” Marshall reviewed the resultant disconnect between the introduction of new information technologies in the classroom, and a failure to acknowledge the complexity of information in the classroom. The interrelationship of education informatics and educational theories is reflected by her statement, “The mechanists say that software acts on the individual, constructivists say the individual interacts with the software and changes in cognition or affect may occur” (p. 3). Magenheim et al. examined which topics within informatics are relevant to future teachers: “Teachers need not only a specific tool but knowledge about how it works in order to adapt the tool to their specific needs” (p. 3). The basic areas of informatics that they identified as relevant to future teachers are: (1) problem-solving strategies in information; (2) technical basics; (3) understanding of the ways in which humans and machines process data; and (4) social impacts and constructs of computer-based media.

As the review of published literature indicates, a great deal has been written about information technology and its usefulness in the classroom, but to date, relatively little has been written about education informatics as a formalized area of study in the curriculum.


The policies and practices of those who publish and disseminate education information will need to change in order to reflect the changing information-seeking patterns of education populations, as well as the impact of new technologies for creating, organizing, evaluating, and accessing information.

Carol Wright (2010) has outlined the implications of new collaborative technologies and changes in information search behaviors in her examination of the information-seeking patterns of education populations. Current information technologies such as wikis and blogs are designed to be used within a collaborative knowledge development environment. However, most institutions of higher and elementary-secondary education are organized to recognize and reward work that is developed by the individual. Other technologies cited by Furlough (2010) provide for ‘increasing use and visibility of user-generated metadata and ratings in a wide range of Web-based information resources, including commerce sites such as Amazon . . . [which] have shown the power of nonauthoritative metadata in less scholarly domains.” The inclusion of this user-generated metadata in information resources has the potential to bridge the roles of scholars and practitioners in education (McFarland & Klopfer, 2010). This vision may support a move from peer review by a homogeneous community of credentialed professional scholars to a heterogeneous community that also includes practitioner-scholars. User-generated data will provide members of both groups with the means to comment on and discuss the relevance of information in education. In the vision articulated by McFarland and Klopfer, the tools of education informatics can be “simultaneously a community of collaborating participants, as a community of consumers, and as a network of interrelated ideas.”

Wright (2010) also notes that education informatics policies need to meet the needs of increasingly diverse populations. Users of education information include researchers, practitioners, students, parents, and society, whose needs for access to information about the individual and information about the aggregate have differing privacy requirements. Wright further notes the coexistence of informal, nonsystematic browsing behaviors of the Internet and the formal, structured searching of traditional databases. The social nature of information-seeking requires changes in information organization so that users can easily transition from topic-based searching to searching based on the social contexts of information creation and dissemination. These social contexts may be drawn from prior knowledge of the author, the project, the institution, or other elements beyond a specific topic.

The need for a deeper understanding of the information-seeking behaviors of the users of education information should drive policy support for transformational changes in the roles of libraries from storehouses of information to centers that study user information-seeking behaviors. This deeper understanding should inform the development of information access and information creation systems (Collins & Weiner, 2010). Implementation of this new role has policy implications that reflect a role for librarians as peers with faculty in higher education, as well as a reidentification of libraries as centers of knowledge rather than as service agencies.

Lesley S. J. Farmer (2010) cites the need for the “educational system as a whole . . . to model the use of informatics.” This modeling should include an acknowledgement of education informatics as a “paradigm for meaningful learning.” Student learning outcomes in informatics and content knowledge need to delineate what students need to know and be able to do. Currently, this integration of content and informatics standards is seldom reflected in state-issued education standards. The inclusion of information, media, and technology skills as part of the support for content learning that is reflected in the Framework for 21st Century Learning may provide an example of modeling of informatics and content knowledge (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009).

The three-pronged framework established by Farmer (2010)—faculty development, curriculum development, and infrastructure—is paralleled by a three-pronged policy development need: teacher preparation programs and standards, review of curriculum to integrate disciplinary content with informatics, and development of funding mechanisms that recognize technological infrastructure as a fundamental and ongoing need for education within both K–12 and teacher education.

In his description of the integration of interactive learner-driven simulations using handheld devices into an elementary classroom environment, Kurt Squire (2010) articulates the transition of schools from a print- and classroom-based environment to digital- and learner-centered environment. This learner-driven problem-solving environment can transform education, but only if policy makers communicate and support this change. Current views of schooling are reflected in popular culture, such as in the Fox Network television show, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? This vision sees knowledge as the ability to recall discrete pieces of information. This popular culture view of knowledge may also be reflected in standardized tests, as described in detail in such publications as Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade (Perlstein, 2007). Using education informatics to transform the curriculum will require leadership from policy makers in redesigning education and moving beyond traditional schooling.

The changes that policy makers must make include moving from sequestered to collaborative problem-solving and moving from place-bound to contextually situated learning and communities. Educational policy makers must consider the implications of blended professional and amateur environments in which the software and data are created by companies, but users of the software add new meaning and materials that are shared with other software users (Squire, 2010).

Currently, schooling rewards individual performance and correlates achievement with time in place. The gamer ethos in learning will require a change in policy to reward collaboration, and also reward for results and meeting learning goals guided by the time frame and application needed by the learner (Squire, 2010).


Policy issues related to education informatics include the broad issues of open access, copyright, and legislation. A number of articles in this issue of TCR address those topics with varying degrees of optimism about their resolution.

Access to information is sometimes mandated by state law and policy, as McLendon and Hearn (2010) outline in their study of “sunshine laws” related to public higher education. Although sunshine laws tend to be considered primarily in regard to openness of high-level searches for university presidents and other administrators within higher education, the effect of open access at all levels of information is apparent. Whether the issue is faculty salaries or travel expenditures of university employees or board members, there is a perceived right to know in order to maintain accountability. The practice of making much information available publicly is typical in the United States, with certain areas related to personnel and other sensitive issues exempt from open access. With the proliferation of technologies also comes the need for clarification about the intent and impact of open access laws on information. This issue also affects education information and the way in which it is shared. Privacy issues of clients and students will continue to be a high priority, but the ability to share information is a deeply held value in the United States (McLendon & Hearn), and the delicate balance of information access and privacy concerns will continue to create tension. Further, commercial advantages gained by open access to information are highly regarded in the American culture, as long as those advantages don’t harm others. Striving to find the right mix of legislation and policy to balance competing interests and values is one factor that education informatics must take into consideration.

Tensions in open access also include copyright issues. The standard model of a publisher holding copyright to content it publishes is evolving as more and more authors consider retaining copyright or providing access to their works in various alternative ways. Furlough (2010) presents an overview of open access issues, the levels of openness, and the choices that authors make in providing or restricting access to their work. Copyright concerns are an inevitable part of this discussion, and Furlough uses the example of published education research to highlight the variety of responses. An authors can choose to relinquish copyright to the publisher, pay fees for open access to all through a publisher, retain copyright, or provide a copy of his or her publication on an institutional Web site. These are just a few of the choices that can be made, and some of these choices can be made without excluding other options. Copyright is a complex issue, and associations have been developed to find ways to work with copyright issues while promoting increased open access to information (e.g., SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition). Education information is of benefit to all citizens because it addresses public and private education topics, economic mobility, and future directions. Open access and copyright among major education journal publications are varied and not significantly different from other disciplines. Education informatics may have a role to play in increasing access to education information while respecting the diversity of publishing models in the field.

Although some authors prefer to publish in those journals that are widely recognized for their importance, despite restrictive copyright policies, others are committed to open access to their work. This tension between perceived prestige of the publication and the needs of audiences is unlikely to be resolved in the near future. As the publishing paradigm evolves, initiatives such as the proposed education informatics program need to keep in mind these multiple approaches and integrate them into policy and practice. As noted elsewhere, John Willinsky (2005) equated quality research with an equal commitment to disseminating the information to interested stakeholders (Furlough, 2010). Education research needs to be presented to those most in need of it: concerned parents, teachers, policy makers, and others. Without simultaneous efforts to disseminate the information, educational research findings will languish in unread reports or unobtainable articles. Policy is needed to move ahead on these issues to ensure that those most in need of information can have access to it without excessive barriers.

Several mechanisms already exist to support information systems that promote open access to information and espouse scholarly communications. As mentioned earlier, these include federal information systems such as ERIC, national agencies, and national associations. Although the federal government is unable to mandate how and where educational research is published (in most cases), it can take a leadership role in developing its own system to model the best practices and technologies related to information collection and distribution. With contracts that push ERIC into new and expanded uses of technology, the government is already moving in this direction. By recognizing that multiple technologies are now used to create and report research, ERIC and other federal programs reflect current practices while maintaining a viable, open source of information about education.

Policies that reinforce the goals of collection of, and access to, education information should be publicized and supported by educators at all levels. Leadership is needed at the national and state levels to support and advocate for ongoing and improved access to education information. Open access initiatives are already in place, and education publishers must determine to what extent they can commit to these publication options, and work to ensure that their authors and audience are aware of the choices available to them. To achieve the broadest possible discussion of these issues, the authors propose a symposium on education informatics that is collaboratively developed by a coalition that includes the U.S. Department of Education, education associations, and commercial and open access publishers. Participants could include consumers and producers of education information, educators from preschool through higher education, publishers, and professional association leaders. The intent of the symposium would be to develop an action plan for moving the many existing resources for education information forward to a comprehensive information system with strong ties to the schools that produce educators.


Education informatics as proposed (Collins & Weiner, 2010) can provide a mechanism for navigating the overwhelming amount of information on the Internet and in print, and make it retrievable with clear indications of quality literature. To accomplish this, collaborative, cost-effective, and sustainable projects will have to be implemented. One possible way of accomplishing this is to create education informatics programs in schools of education. Working collaboratively with organizations such as the Holmes Partnership (http://www.holmespartnership.org), efforts to improve availability of educational information for those who educate teachers will result in improved understanding of and ability in the use of education information. The Holmes Partnership is focused primarily on issues related to improvement in public education, but combined efforts with this group and others will improve education at all levels and in all types of schooling.

Other organizations that can contribute to education informatics are the Schools Interoperability Framework Association (SIFA; http://www.sifinfo.org/general-overview.asp), the National Association of State Boards of Education (http://www.nasbe.org), and individual state education associations, among others. One of the key partners in education informatics needs to be the federal government. As active collectors of education data and information, the various agencies within the U.S. Department of Education are well positioned to contribute to, support, and leverage existing resources toward education informatics. Through existing systems such as the ERIC database and the data collected and disseminated by the National Center for Education Statistics through its many reports, the U.S. Department of Education already embodies a partial vision of education informatics. What is missing from this picture are: the leadership to bring the state, regional, and local systems in line with the federal system in data distribution; active partnerships with professional associations to align policy with practice and need; and inclusion of professional development schools in education in the formation of an education informatics initiative.

Given the wide array of technologies currently available and the multiple learning styles that they can support, it is important that any initiative to develop an education informatics program address and respond to preferred technologies and variants in learning styles so that information, although standardized, can be delivered in multiple formats to accommodate different needs. Organizations such as SIFA have the knowledge to address interoperability issues in education, while professional education associations are familiar with differing learning styles. By bringing these many associations populated by experts together, an education informatics initiative can be truly broad and move ahead in addressing critical needs in education.

Standardization also needs to be considered in the delivery of information. Implementing standards in coding, tagging, and labeling information will allow information to be repackaged in ways that can meet the needs of the various consumers. Again, this is an area in which the federal agencies can take the lead. In many ways, these agencies already have brought some standardization to information collection and distribution systems. It is not unusual to see a state system provide statistical data and reports similar to those available on the federal Web sites. This is a direct result of the No Child Left Behind legislation, which requires school districts to publicly report accountability and assessment results. The ERIC database has long served as a model for collecting education information published in not only journals but also in agency and association reports, conference papers, and monographs. These efforts have been recognized over the years as models used, and expanded on, by commercial vendors. Accelerating the efforts to create more standardization that subsequently can be modified for various consumers is well within the purview of the federal agencies dealing with education information. Funding these types of activities, however, is always problematic. To this end, it is important to create partnerships with associations, organizations, and state-level agencies to support an education informatics initiative.

The benefits of having a standardized system for collecting and disseminating education information will serve as a strong argument for this type of collaboration. Standardization will allow information to be easily manipulated and organized while still retaining the ability to package it for commercial purposes; allow distribution by individual stakeholders; and permit reformatting for specific purposes or types of consumers. With recognition of the benefits of a standardized education informatics initiative, proposals for funding of these systems can be based on a commonly defined need.

An education informatics environment that addresses issues of standardization and that is based on collaboration among all stakeholders can lead to the development of a true education academic curriculum that is part of the discipline of education.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 10, 2010, p. 2703-2710
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15876, Date Accessed: 5/21/2022 9:11:01 AM

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About the Author
  • Jo Ann Carr
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    JO ANN CARR is director of media, education resources, and information technology for the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As director, she oversees library, media production, computer services, shared learning spaces, desktop support, instructional consulting, and network services for the school. These diverse responsibilities place Carr in the nexus of information creation, organization, access, and technology resources. Her publication and invited presentation history includes information literacy, school library media centers, and the intersection of library and technology services in education. In 1999, she received the Distinguished Education and Behavioral Sciences Librarian Award from the Association of College and Research Libraries. Carr was also a member of the inaugural class for the Frye Leadership Institute sponsored by EDUCAUSE.
  • Nancy O'Brien
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    NANCY P. O'BRIEN is head of the Education and Social Science Library and professor of library administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. With additional responsibilities for building and maintaining the collection of education resources in all formats and providing instruction and virtual and real-time reference service, O'Brien's use of education information is that of both a provider and a scholar. Her research and publications focus on the history, organization, and management of education and testing resources in libraries, with emphasis on access to, and the preservation of, historical education collections as part of our cultural heritage. In 1997, she received the Distinguished Education and Behavioral Sciences Librarian Award from the Association of College and Research Libraries. O’Brien is coeditor, with John W. Collins, of the 2003 Greenwood Dictionary of Education. See http://www.library.uiuc.edu/people/bios/npobrien for further information.
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