Harold Borko (1922-2012): Professor Pioneered Information Studies at UCLA

The pioneering School of Library Service faculty member was instrumental in bringing the field of information science to UCLA.

Emeritus Professor of Information Studies Harold Borko died on April 7 at age 90. Having joined the UCLA faculty in 1968, he was instrumental in bringing the field of information science to UCLA’s School of Library Service. Among the courses that he created and taught were “Principles of Information Systems Analysis and Design,” “Information Retrieval Systems,” and “Data Processing in the Library.”

Borko was the author of two seminal texts in information science, “Abstracting Concepts and Methods,” (with Charles L. Bernier, New York, NY: Academic Press, 1975) and “Indexing Concepts and Methods” (New York, NY: Academic Press, 1979).

During the development stages of information science, he presented his research on a host of topics, including storage and retrieval, classification systems, systems analysis, and information networks. Institutions and conferences throughout the United States, Great Britain, Europe, Asia, and what was then the U.S.S.R. benefited from Borko’s findings and expertise.

Harold Borko was born in New York City on February 4, 1922. He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from UCLA in 1948 and went on to achieve his master’s degree in psychometrics in 1949 and doctorate in psychology in 1952 from the University of Southern California. Prior to his academic career, Borko served as a captain and psychologist in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps from 1952 to 1956. In addition, he worked as a social scientist at the RAND Corporation throughout the mid-1950s.

When the American Documentation Institute changed its name to the American Society for Information Science in 1968, Borko wrote an essay titled, “Information Science: What is It?,” attempting to define the new and developing field of information science. According to Gregory Leazer, chair of the Department of Information Studies at UCLA, Borko’s essay was “foundational and is still widely read.”

“Information science is a discipline that investigates the properties and behavior of information, the forces governing the flow of information, and the means of processing information for optimum accessibility and usability,” wrote Borko. “It is concerned with that body of knowledge relating to the origination, collection, organization, storage, retrieval, interpretation, transmission, transformation, and utilization of information.”

Robert Hayes, emeritus professor of information studies, has been Borko’s friend and colleague since the two worked at competing computer companies: Hayes had established his own business, Advanced Information Systems, and Borko was working as a social scientist at System Development Corporation, considered the world’s first software company. Hayes joined the faculty of the School of Library Service after selling his company to Hughes Dynamics, and Borko joined him to teach at UCLA.

“I think that he did so since we had such a common perception of the important relationships between librarianship and computers,” says Hayes. “And so we became together the ‘information scientists’ on the faculty.”

Before officially joining the UCLA faculty in 1968, Borko served as a part-time lecturer for two years. He also taught general psychology and a graduate class in “Computer Applications to Psychological Research” at USC from 1957 to 1966.

Borko served as president of the American Documentation Institute/American Society for Information Science in 1966. He also served on the board of directors for the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, the American Society for Indexers, and the U.S. National Committee for the International Federation for Documentation, National Academy of Sciences. In addition, he was a member of the California Library Association, the Research Society of America, Phi Beta Kappa, Pi Gamma Mu, and Sigma Xi.

In 1988, Professor Borko was honored with the Best Information Science Teacher Award from the American Society for Information Science (now the American Society for Information Science & Technology) and the Institute for Scientific Information. He also received the ASIS&T Award of Merit in 1994.

Borko, who recently resided in Santa Monica, is survived by his daughter Hilda Borko, son Marty Borko, granddaughter Lacy Borko, and grandson Graham James Borko Livesay. A private family service was held this month. Professor Borko’s colleagues and friends in the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies at UCLA will present a tribute to him at the Library and Information Studies Alumni Association (LISAA) Awards Dinner on May 17. For more information, please contact Nick Belli at (310) 206-0375.