College of Computing & Informatics (CCI) alumna Toni Carbo, MS Library and Information Science and PhD Information Studies, is the recipient of the top award from the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T), the Award of Merit. The award’s purpose is to recognize an individual deemed to have made particularly noteworthy and sustained contributions to the information science field and is awarded for the sum of a person’s professional career. Candidates are assessed based on 3 criteria: impact on theory, scholarship, and practice; exemplary leadership and sustained involvement; and education and mentoring.
Carbo, who was the College’s first doctoral graduate in 1977, is a member of the original group of Drexel’s 100 most distinguished alumni. She helped the College (then the School of Information Science and Technology) launch graduate programs in Sacramento after retiring as dean of the iSchool at University of Pittsburgh where she served for 16 years.
After receiving the news about her prestigious award, we spoke with Carbo to learn more about her academic journey and her accomplishments in the field of information science.
What does it mean to you to receive the top award of ASIS&T?
It really does mean more than I can express. I had honestly never expected to receive this award. It was always considered an award for scholarly research and publications. While I certainly have done research and written many works that were published, my focus has always been more on applications, particularly helping to form and build professional organizations and working to get our international communities to address key issues related to information ethics and policy.
How did Drexel set the foundation for your career?
Actually Drexel set a major foundation for my career, but not the only one. Other foundations were set earlier by my family with its emphasis on values such as caring for others and treating everyone fairly and then by my earlier education. As valedictorian of my 8th grade class, I was asked to make a speech at commencement. This was in 1956, a time of many changes in the country, including addressing civil rights issues. I was strongly committed to trying to correct inequities and to doing anything I could to get people to treat everyone fairly. I entitled my speech: "How world peace may be established in the future."
The next year, on a trip to Atlanta during our winter break, my mother and two sisters and I stopped for lunch and I saw that the restaurant had 2 water fountains -- one labeled white and one "colored." I asked my mother why the labels, because both were white fountains. When she told me why, I was absolutely outraged and said: "That's wrong! We need to do something to change this." She agreed with me. That sense of outrage never went away and I don't want it to ever go away.
Being accepted by Brown in 1960 was another huge part of my foundation. I ended up being hired to work in the library and found that I was really intrigued by questions such as how the literature of any field is defined and how you go from a question in someone's head to information in different sources and formats. I worked there for a year and was then hired by Brown's Physical Science Library, which I really enjoyed. I worked full time and, after being encouraged by several people to complete my degree, I also took courses, working on weekends to make up the time, and finished my degree in 1969.
I was encouraged to go on to get a master’s degree and decided to go to Drexel in 1970 because of its strong technology component and its high quality. I completed my masters (a four-quarter program) in the spring of 1972. I was very fortunate to be selected as graduate assistant to Dean Guy Garrison, and learned a tremendous amount from him. That year, the Dean told me that the School's proposal to start a PhD program had been approved, and they planned to start it in the fall of 1973. He asked me to be their guinea pig student and start in the fall of 1972, which I did, completing my course work (much of it at the University of Pennsylvania in the Wharton Business School and with courses on topics including organization theory and management) and preliminary exams. When I first met with the dean as his new assistant, I told him that I was very concerned about the lack of diversity in the student body and asked if I could put together a group to do something about this, and whether he would be willing to provide funding for students we identified who fully met all admissions criteria. He agreed to this and we started a minority recruitment program that grew quite quickly.
We returned to Philadelphia in the summer of 1974 when I started work as executive director of the National Federation of Indexing and Abstracting Services, and also worked to write my dissertation. Drexel played a huge role in building the foundation for my career.
Any favorite memories from your time getting your PhD at Drexel?
I have many great memories of the time at Drexel. First of all, I loved Philadelphia, which is a wonderful and diverse city. We first lived right near the University in a neighborhood that was considered "marginal", which we considered to be a great community with a very diverse population and an apartment that we could afford.
I have fond memories of having long talks with faculty members and fellow students over coffee or an occasional beer. Other memories include the many different student chapters of professional organizations, including ASIS (as it was known at the time) and SLA. Getting to work with the local chapters which kindly shared their speakers with us provided great benefits to us in developing professional ties and providing future job opportunities.
Another particular set of special memories relate to the work I did with many colleagues to increase diversity. I met a terrific group on people within the Philadelphia community and state wide, and was delighted to see the increases we were able to bring about.