The emergence and evolution of iSchools was triggered by the explosive growth in digital information. In a 2003 study, Peter Lyman and Hal Varian estimated that about 5 exabytes (5×1018) of new information was generated in 2002 worldwide, with a growth rate of about 30% per year. They note that 5 exabytes “is equivalent in size to the information contained in 37,000 new libraries the size of the Library of Congress book collections. A 2007 study by IDC concluded that the worldwide production of information in 2006 exceeded 161 exabytes, increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 57%. While only a small fraction of this information is accessible online (<2% by some estimates), it still represents an enormous and increasing amount of information that presents major challenges (and opportunities) in information management, access, and preservation.

Marcia Bates defines “the domain of information science [as] the universe of recorded information that is selected and retained for later access, and posits that applied information science is “primarily concerned with the form and organization of information, its underlying structure, and only secondarily with its content. Add to this the study of human use of information and the design and development of the technological tools to utilize information, and an understanding of the domain of the iSchools emerges. Bates succinctly states these through three driving questions:

  • What are the features and laws of the recorded-information universe? (physical question)
  • How do people relate to, seek, and use information? (social question)
  • How can access to recorded information be made most rapid and effective? (design question)

The iSchools are interested in the relationship between information, technology, and people. This is characterized by a commitment to learning and understanding the role of information in human endeavors. The iSchools take it as given that expertise in all forms of information is required for progress in science, business, education, and culture. This expertise must include understanding of the uses and users of information, as well as information technologies and their applications.