Harry Bruce cut a dashing figure, as Mike Eisenberg remembers it, when the two first met in the mid-1990s.
“He’d just gotten off a plane,” Mike recalled. “He was wearing jeans and had a two-day growth of beard, but he was this interesting young guy, full of ideas, and handsome — and had that great Australian accent.”
A few short years later, Harry would join Mike at the University of Washington. The rest, as they say, is history.
Over the next two decades, they would team up to turn a venerable library school with five faculty members and 150 students into the modern Information School, with more than 50 faculty and 1,100 students. Now, Harry is stepping down after 11 years as dean of the iSchool.
“It was a big leap,” Harry said of his decision in 1998 to leave his native Australia for Seattle, “but at the time I saw it as a great opportunity to build something very special, which is precisely what happened.”
Before it could happen, Harry had to be lured across the Pacific Ocean. He had a young family and a coveted job, having achieved a long-held ambition when he joined the faculty of the School of Information Studies at the University of Technology Sydney. Earning a tenure-track position as a senior lecturer there had been “the very best moment” of his career to that point, he said.
Harry gained widespread attention in the field when he became the first person from Sydney’s Information Studies school to be published in the Journal of the American Society for Information Science (now known as JASIST). The paper, which focused on the concept of relevance, led to a trip to North America to meet with other scholars who were doing similar work, and to that plane trip to Syracuse, New York, where he first encountered Mike.
The two met again a year later when Mike traveled to Australia during a sabbatical from his position on the Syracuse faculty. They taught a course together in Sydney, and their families became fast friends. After Mike returned to Syracuse, he and his wife, Carol, stayed close with Harry and his wife, Lorraine, through "The Palace," an early virtual reality chatroom — think "Second Life," only a lot more primitive.
When Mike was offered the job as director of the UW Graduate School of Library & Information Science, he had big things planned and a few conditions before he would accept it. A key requirement was that he could hire Harry, but first he had to convince the couple to uproot their two school-aged daughters and leave for America.
“Harry and Lorraine were the major people who said, ‘Yeah, Mike, you’ve got to go. You’ve got to do this,’” Mike said. “And then I turned it around on them in the chatroom and said, ‘OK, if I go, you’re coming.’” He knew he would need a partner who could help build the school into an academic powerhouse — and who had a steady demeanor that complemented Mike’s frenetic energy.
For Harry, it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. He knew Mike’s vision for building the Information School, and that they would have the support and resources of the university to see it through.
“I came from a research environment in Australia that had very limited resources for supporting research, to here, which to my way of thinking at the time, the resources available for great ideas just seemed to be almost limitless,” he said.
He started in fall of 1998 as the associate director for research and program development, and quickly set about building the school’s research culture and establishing a Ph.D. program. Within a couple of years, he had also participated in the creation of a master’s program in Information Management and an undergraduate program in Informatics. In 2001, the fast-evolving unit became an independent school at the UW and was renamed the Information School. Harry became the associate dean and Mike the dean.
“It was heady times,” Mike said. “We treated the iSchool like a startup, and you don’t do startups at universities, but we had a great administration and campus support, so we just moved as fast as we could.”
By the beginning of 2006, the school had added more than 20 faculty members and was serving more than 500 students. Mike stepped aside as dean, and Harry was the clear choice to succeed him. Over the next 11 years, he would preside over the iSchool’s tremendous growth in size and influence. The school’s research has expanded its reach and global impact; its Informatics major has grown to serve more than 200 new students each year; its Master of Library and Information Science program recently rose to No. 2 in the U.S. News national rankings; and its Information Science Ph.D. and Master of Science in Information Management programs are thriving.
“The vision was to create a broad-based information school with high quality, high impact, and very broad influence,” Harry said. “But I think we’ve gone well beyond the initial expectations that Mike and I had for the school.”
Under Harry’s leadership, the UW iSchool has been at the forefront of a global iSchools movement that now includes more than 80 colleges and universities. Harry played a key role in the first iConference, where leading scholars in the field defined the identity of iSchools. They settled on a broad, inclusive view of the fields and subfields that might fall under the domain of an information school.
“The notion of, ‘Let us embrace all the fields that want to explore human engagements with information and with technology’ – I really have a wonderful memory of that, and I’m pretty proud that I was coordinating that particular discussion and its outcomes, and just how foundational that has been over years now, to the growth of the iSchools movement,” Harry said.
He continued to teach and conduct research over the years, with a focus on human information behavior, information seeking and use, and personal information management. His research has been funded by organizations such as the National Science Foundation and the Institute for Library and Museum Studies, and he’s presented at conferences around the world on topics such as the changing role of libraries and his vision for information schools.
With all he’s accomplished, Harry said he is most proud of the impact he’s had on the quality of students’ experience and the work lives of faculty and staff. That, along with “having tremendous fun,” is why he often says being the dean of the UW iSchool is the best job in the world.
As for what’s next, he hasn’t made any firm plans. Lorraine, a senior lecturer at the iSchool, is retiring, and Harry will take a yearlong sabbatical to write, think and decompress.
“It’s very exciting. It’s very liberating,” Harry said. “I’ve done things beyond my wildest expectations. I want to live a happy, joyful life filled with appreciation. I’m completely satisfied with every aspect of my life, professionally and family-wise. I’m just ready to face the future with a very open heart and a very open mind.”