Alumnus Roger Greer, MLS ‘56, Ph.D ’64, a pioneering scholar in the field of library and information science, profoundly and permanently impacted the field through his theory of “information transfer” and his “community analysis model.” Among other academic positions, Greer was a professor and dean at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies and the University of Southern California’s School of Library and Information Management. He was also a visiting professor at SC&I.
Greer died in 2014 at the age of 86, and his life and legacy are being celebrated again now through the release of a new monograph titled “ROGER C. GREER: A Festschrift.” Published by Bluestem Press, it was written by Bob Grover, Herbert Achleitner, and Kelly Visnak. According to the authors, the monograph is a compilation of “written submissions by former students, colleagues, and family.”
In an email Grover sent to the “Library and Information Science Educators' Information and Discussion List,” describing Greer’s career, he noted that Greer worked as “Business Librarian, Linden (NJ) Public Library; Head, LC Cataloging and Card Preparation Department, Purdue University Library; and Director of Libraries and Professor, State University of New York at Potsdam.”
In addition to serving on the faculty at Syracuse, USC, and SC&I, Grover wrote that Greer was also “Instructor, Graduate School of Library Service, Rutgers University during his doctoral work; Visiting Professor, Graduate School of Library Studies, University of Hawaii; and Professor, University of Denver Graduate School of Librarianship. He retired in 1995 as Professor, Emporia State University School of Library and Information Management.”
Describing the influence Greer’s scholarship had on the profession and the field, Grover wrote, “Roger was critical of LIS education that taught primarily practice, or what he called ‘shop level’ content in courses. He proposed the application of social science theories to the library and information profession, and his application of theory guided his creation of curricula for LIS education.
“He began implementing his curriculum ideas at Syracuse University and implemented innovative master’s and doctoral curricula at USC. The intellectual center of the curricula was the theory of information transfer, which provided the foundation for the master’s and Ph.D. programs for which he provided leadership at both USC and Emporia State University.
“The models that he created were published in two books: ‘Introduction to the Library and Information Profession’ (Libraries Unlimited, 2007, 2013), and ‘Evolving Global Information Infrastructure and Information Transfer’ (Libraries Unlimited, 2015). He also founded the Community Analysis Research Institute, and the community analysis model that he created is published in ‘Assessing Information Needs: Managing Transformative Information Services’ (Libraries Unlimited, 2010).”
Seeking to learn more about Greer’s life and work, at Professor and Chair of the Library and Information Science Department Marie Radford’s suggestion, SC&I spoke with Professor Emeritus Daniel O’Connor, who was Greer’s student, colleague, and close friend.
In our Q&A below, O’Connor shares his thoughts about the impact Rutgers had on Greer, as well as the ways Greer’s work impacted SC&I and the global library and information science profession and field.
How and when did you first meet Roger Greer?
I met Roger in August 1967. I had just finished my undergraduate degree, and I was also a commissioned officer in the Army, and the Army agreed to let me go to library school. I had been accepted at Columbia University, the University of Chicago, the University of Pittsburgh, Rutgers University, and Syracuse University. I took a bus to Syracuse and met with Professor Roger Greer. He talked me into going to Syracuse – he had a vision that the other places didn’t. He was actually right – Syracuse had been about to close their school so they brought Roger in as a change agent.
When Rutgers began its first master’s degree in library science, the faculty were hired in 1954 and given a year and a half to prepare the curriculum. These were very powerful people, and Rutgers’ goal was to be the number one school in library science. So Rutgers began with this agenda and hired the strongest faculty possible.
When I showed up at Rutgers, I learned that one of the faculty members had been in charge of all Army libraries during World War II, and another faculty member had been in charge of all the libraries in the Navy during the war. Professor Mary Gaver had been the president of the American Library Association and she would work with then Rutgers President Mason Gross to help him prepare his talks before he spoke at ALA meetings.
Mary referred to me as “That Boy’s Assistant” and “That Boy” was Roger.
I met my wife Cheryl at Syracuse in the fall of 1967 in Roger Greer’s Reference class. I was soon part of Roger’s family. Whenever I went back to Syracuse, I would stay at his house with his wife Nat and their three kids. (Greer’s wife Natalia, who was born in New York, was also a librarian and she and Roger met in Germany and they were married in 1954.)
That’s amazing! Did Greer ever tell you about his childhood and when he arrived at Rutgers?
Roger was born on a farm in Minnesota in 1928, in a house without running water. His brother served as an aide to Hubert Humphrey. Roger joined the Navy at age 17 to fight in World War II and arrived in the Pacific theater as the war was ending. He later joined the Army in the 1950s serving mostly in Europe. He returned to go to Rutgers to be in the first MLS class after the School was created and he was graduated in 1956. Several years later he returned to Rutgers where he earned his Ph.D. degree. The Rutgers faculty had a huge influence on his thinking and on those he influenced.
Interesting. Could you identify specific faculty and individuals where his Rutgers experience influenced others?
Roger was one of the most charismatic individuals you could ever encounter. He saw the library field as one that would need to expand its horizons if society were to develop a population of individuals who could be informed to govern the democracy, be knowledgeable voters, and expand the economy. The Rutgers faculty were strong in their beliefs and they were, in all honesty, hard on their doctoral students. The Dean, Ralph Shaw, would tell a doctoral student that his idea would have the impact of a “flea’s flatulence.” Other faculty, such as Mary Gaver, Richard Shoemaker, Paul Dunkin, and Lowell Martin, were more polished but equally critical of what would be needed to educate the leaders of a dynamic profession that was already growing in size and influence.
Were the other students at Rutgers similar to Greer?
Roger would brag about how smart and accomplished his cohort group was. He was influential in bringing a student to Rutgers who became one of our highest acclaimed alums: Dick Dougherty. Their classmates also included others who would make their mark as directors of the largest libraries in the country. The Rutgers faculty impressed upon their students that they would be major players in the development and expansion of the library field.
How did Rutgers impact the students that Roger taught?
Roger made sure that all of his colleagues would know each other and we can remember the times at conferences when we would debate until dawn the role of libraries in the disruptions caused by a new information technology. Those from Rutgers and others were tutored in Roger’s regaling of the education imparted to him by the faculty who taught him. Roger influenced later Rutgers students such as Chuck Curran, James Benson, Phil Clark, George D’Elia, and many others. Each of these students now had students of their own and they, too, would be part of an ever-expanding group of individuals who were trying to help define a path to meet society’s challenges. The impact of this can be seen in the curricula of the schools as they heeded Roger’s advice to respect and seek knowledge from other fields.
Did Roger’s education at Rutgers influence other peer programs at other universities?
Great question. Roger knew the Dean of every ALA accredited program and he would corner each of them to ask how we might develop a newly evolving profession. Roger was instrumental in getting ALA to create a research office and a research roundtable; importantly, he also cajoled other leaders to agree to change the library school association to an association of scholars (from an association of schools to ALISE). He contended that iSchools needed to be scholar driven and not school dependent. Roger introduced those of us in his circle to most of the Deans of other schools so we, too, could have an impact on the development of our field. One important note here is that Roger’s dissertation dealt with National Bibliography and he continued to be concerned with how knowledge is captured and retained. He was influenced by Henk Edelman who saw that our lack of a true national library was, instead, replaced by a distributed system of research libraries where each had an obligation to function together as a comprehensive collective of our national and global knowledge.
It sounds very positive. Since Rutgers was known to be a place of ideas, were all of the colleagues in agreement on the path to be pursued?
This question is also a good insight. Heck no, there was discord and disagreement all the time which made for dynamic debates on core issues. For example, the Rutgers which educated Roger no longer existed in that form. The new faculty, influenced by Ralph Blasingame, saw evaluation as a viable goal to have the libraries prove that they were efficient and effective in accomplishing their goals. Ellen Altman was a leader in this area working with Ernie DeProspo and assisted by Phil and Ellen Clark. Greer, on the other hand, saw evaluation as counter-productive since it could inhibit growth and development of the field. Instead, Roger championed community analysis as a way to identify users and non-users of services so that they could get the information they needed at the time they needed it.
How did this tension play out?
The two groups were not personally antagonistic toward each other, but they were a bit competitive. Roger was invited to almost all of the states to teach his community analysis system. Chuck McClure was instrumental in publishing how evaluation methods could be used to advance library creditably and help achieve goals. Doug Zweizig and George D’Elia presented thoughtful models and methods to explain who the library users were and who the non-users were.
I notice that most of the individuals mentioned seemed to be similar in demographics. Was that an issue?
Very clever observation. Yes, lots of those associated with Roger were white men who saw themselves as governing a field of white women without much attention to non-white individuals. This was a serious issue when Roger spent a sabbatical at Rutgers and interacted with faculty and students. He was challenged by SC&I Professors Emeritus Betty Turock and Jana Varlejs for seeing the field through myopic and biased eyes. Roger seemed defensive but unapologetic for a field that had a disconnect between its leaders and its own constituency. He did comment that librarians were often disconnected from those they serve.
Did Roger interact with later Rutgers Alums?
Yes, he was always enthusiastic to meet with Rutgers folks and give them advice while also listening to their ideas. He mentioned a number of time how impressed he was with SC&I Professor Emeritus Carol Kuhlthau and her introduction to new, more revealing methods to isolate how people interacted with information to make decisions and create knowledge. He also valued interacting with SC&I alums such as Tom Shaughnessy, Mary Jo Lynch, Shirley Fitzgibbons, Pat Reeling, Kay Maloney, Bob Wedgeworth, Phil Mulvaney, and many others. Roger was quick to connect with people to get their reactions to the models he created for the advancement of our field. He did present these ideas in later monographs he wrote.
Finally, what was the impact of the Rutgers agenda with Roger’s vision and model of what should be the foundation of an emerging field?
This is a difficult but important issue to address. Roger had always kept in contact with Rutgers, when Tom Mott was Dean as well as with Dick Budd. Yet, when Roger spent his sabbatical at Rutgers I saw him being influenced in important ways by several of our faculty. His discussions with Distinguished Professor of Library and Information Science Nick Belkin resulted in a realization of how the information science field and the library field could interact in a positive and constructive way to achieve common goals and eventually merge or morph into a unified discipline. Roger also discussed with SC&I Professor Emeritus Tefko Saracevic how such curricula could evolve to encompass the range of ever-changing topics associated with these fields. Roger also conferred with SC&I Professors Emeritus Gus Friedrich and Harty Mokros about how communication, sociology, and psychology could play a critical role in the information fields. I think it was Harty who offered a path that was not available when Roger created the Syracuse doctoral program when he had hired Brenda Dervin, Jeff Katzer, Bob Bottle, and others. His thinking was influenced then by Pauline Atherton. I believe that decades later he recognized how other disciplines are needed for a robust information field that is respected because it makes meaningful contributions to individuals, communities, and society. I was always proud to be a student of Roger Greer and I learned the value of focusing on how ideas can translate to action to help create a better democracy.
The festschrift is available on the publisher’s website. According to the website, proceeds from sales of the festschrift will go toward the Roger Greer Diversity & Leadership Scholarship at Emporia State University.
Photo credit: Horan & McConaty